Tensions increase on spilled milk while N.L. farmers ask retailers to lift restrictions

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Newfoundland and Labrador dairy farmers were forced to spill tens of thousands of liters of fresh milk this week after the Nova Scotia market weakened, local retailers reduced their orders and the consumer demand has slowed.

But a dairy industry leader in the province believes there is some stability on the horizon.

This is a consequence of the unprecedented situation created by the COVID-19 virus, with demand for dairy products plummeting across the country.

But in this province, tension has been exacerbated by a heated quarrel between dairy producers, the minister representing their industry and the national body representing retailers.

At the same time, the association, which represents two dozen dairy producers in the province, confirmed on Thursday that 170,000 liters of milk, at a farm price of $ 1 per liter, had been dumped this week.

This is less than one percent of annual production, but it is a circumstance that rarely occurs in the industry.

“What is happening is unprecedented,” said Goulds farmer Crosbie Williams, who is vice-president of the Dairy Farmers of Newfoundland and Labrador, who controls the production and marketing of milk in the province.

A rush to fill up

The problem started a few weeks ago when public health officials began to apply increasingly stringent travel restrictions and physical distances to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Citizens are also advised to limit their trips to the grocery store to once a week.

This has prompted many to start buying large quantities of food and other essentials. The milk supply in stores was quickly swallowed up, as were other products such as chicken and eggs.

Colemans Grocery placed limits on milk purchases, but then lifted the measure. File photo. (Submitted by Greg Gill)

This has prompted some retailers, including Walmart, Dominion and Sobeys, to set purchase limits for items like milk.

And with so much milk – with an expiration date of 21 days – already stuffed in the province’s refrigerators, sales plummeted last week.

As a result, said Williams, orders from retailers fell 30% from the previous week and 50% from the same period a year ago.

And in another stroke, the flow of milk to Nova Scotia – where about 25 percent of local milk is shipped – has practically stopped because the market in that province has also taken over.

This therefore created a situation where the volume of milk far exceeded demand and left farmers with no choice but to discard large quantities.

“This is a huge success,” said Williams.

The situation prompted Minister of Fisheries and Land Resources Gerry Byrne to attack retailers for their decision to reduce orders and limit purchases.

This sparked a strong response from the Retail Council of Canada, a spokesperson telling Byrne to put an end to the rhetoric and let the “supply chain management experts” take care of their own business.

Williams was more restrained in his response, saying that several factors contributed to the situation, including the inability to ship excess milk to Nova Scotia, where production of products such as cheese and yogurt plummeted.

As retailers gain a better grasp of the new reality brought by COVID-19, Williams believes that the limits will be slowly lifted.

But Williams is unhappy with the purchase limits, saying the milk supply is robust and that the limits could force some consumers to venture out more often, which is contrary to recommendations by officials. public health.

“The consumer should be able to buy what they want,” said Williams.

Learn more about CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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