Passionate about supply management: Research convinced a University of Waterloo professor of its benefits


Bruce Muirhead says the true value of supply management often goes unappreciated.

Muirhead is an academic who has made a career of studying agriculture and trade policies. Recently, he has turned his attention to the supply management system used for egg production in Canada, among other commodities.

Not only does the system keep the cost of supply-managed foods like eggs stable, he says, but it also allows family farms to thrive.

Through his studies, he’s come away impressed with the system, which he says has advantages both economically and for the people who earn their living providing Canadians with eggs.

Muirhead, who holds the Egg Farmers of Canada Research Chair in Public Policy at the University of Waterloo, did not grow up on a farm. Originally from Ottawa, his career has been centred on academia.

He studied at Queen’s University in Kingston and the University of Toronto before getting a doctorate in the history of trade policy from York University. He taught at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, then moved to the University of Waterloo in 2006, where he is a professor of history and associate vice-president for external research in the Office of Research.

He has written extensively on Canadian trade negotiations that have taken place the Second World War, as well as Canadian politics, diplomacy, economic and international development.

He also has some personal experience in the agricultural sector. His brother-in-law ran a dairy farm, where he would regularly help out. He also spent time when he was younger working on a pig farm in northwestern Alberta; the experience, he says, “taught me what I didn’t want to do with my life.”

His interest in supply management came in a roundabout way.

As a specialist in trade policy, he was hired by the Norwegian Research Council in 2007 to do research and provide advice about various agricultural organizational models Norway might be able to use.

“I hadn’t thought about supply management at that point, though I knew about it,” he says.

“I did interviews and reading and came to the conclusion that supply management is actually a sound organizational principle for some agricultural commodities.”

Muirhead adds that the supply management system also supports family farms by allowing small producers to make a good living.

The system works for eggs, he says, because eggs are a low-volume, high value item. The average egg farm in Canada has 20,000 birds, “and with 20,000 hens, you can make a living in Canada – something you can’t do almost anywhere else.”

Referencing his research, Muirhead is convinced that this system is good for all Canadians, from farmers to consumers. And his enthusiasm is clear: “I feel passionately about supply management as an organizational system that benefits everybody in the supply chain.”