Why Canadian dairy farmers dump milk despite food supply problems in COVID-19

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Some Canadian dairy producers started dumping milk last week to eliminate the surplus production system, with restaurant demand having plummeted in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that forced restaurants across the country to close.

“We started seeing milk thrown away last week,” said David Wiens, vice-president of Dairy Farmers of Canada, a national organization for dairy farmers. However, it is a bit early to know exactly how many milk producers have spilled at this point.

Dairy farms in British Columbia began to dispose of raw milk on April 3, according to a statement on the BC Dairy Association website. The group did not respond to a request for comment

Ontario dairy producers, who represent approximately 3,400 farms, informed producers “that these measures would be required on a selective and rotating basis” last week, said Cheryl Smith, executive director, in an emailed statement .

Producers in Prince Edward Island have not yet had to spill milk, but “it’s probably inevitable that it will happen,” said Gordon MacBeath, president of the Dairy Farmers of PEI. The six eastern provinces – which include Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador – tend to act in block, he said, and the other five had to throw milk recently.

SaskMilk, a producer marketing agency, said in a statement on its website that “there are situations where milk will be dumped.” He did not respond to a request for comment.

It’s “very, very disheartening for farmers,” Wiens said. “It goes against every grain of their body. “

Procurement management

The country’s milk production is controlled by a system called supply management. It is a controversial system that has seen its share of opposition. President Donald Trump has called on Canada to end the dairy industry.

According to the Dairy Farmers of Canada website, Canada adopted this model for dairy products in the early 1970s to overcome surplus production in the previous two decades. Egg and poultry producers have started operating under the system in recent years.

The Canadian Dairy Commission administers supply management for dairy producers, with the Canadian Milk Supply Management Committee assessing national demand for dairy products and setting production targets each year. Dairy farmers have what are called quotas, which allow them to produce a specific amount of milk which depends on expected demand. The production volume of their quota can be increased or decreased as required.

Watch: Canada’s Food Supply and COVID-19

Do Canadian Farmers Need More Support? Carole MacNeil of CBC poses questions about the food supply to experts. 8:42

Dairy farmers sell their product at a fixed price that takes into account production costs and other factors. Grocers set retail prices.

The supply management system tries to ensure that farmers produce the right amount of milk to fuel Canadians’ desire for dairy products.

The COVID-19 epidemic, however, has resulted in unexpected fluctuations, said Wiens.

“A few weeks ago, no one would have predicted that this would have an impact on the market,” he said.

On the retail side, demand has skyrocketed as people come down to grocery stores and stock up on essentials. Some grocery stores limited the amount of butter and other dairy products that customers could buy because their just-in-time distribution system could not handle new volumes of milk and keep the shelves stocked quickly enough, he said. .

“A huge surplus”

Farmers have “a huge surplus of milk now, which has nowhere to go,” said Wiens.

But demand has dropped from food service customers, such as restaurants. Restaurants across the country have closed – some on the orders of the provincial government and others to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Almost all food services in Canada remain closed, with some restaurants continuing to operate and serving only take-out food.

Meanwhile, as demand fluctuates, cows continue to produce milk daily.

“There’s no tap you can just slow down and, you know, turn it on and off the way we want,” said Wiens, who operates a dairy farm near a small town about 70 kilometers south of Winnipeg. ” It does not work like that. “

Certain types of food, such as meat, have experienced significant shortages within COVID-19. However, dairy products seem to be overcrowded, which forces many farmers to waste their product before it even goes to the grocery store. (Gerry Byrne / Twitter)

As the milk keeps coming, there is nowhere to store it.

Storage issues

Dairy production is a different animal than, say, growing potatoes, said MacBeath, who operates a dairy farm outside of Charlottetown.

The potatoes can be stored in a warehouse during the winter and marketed later, he said.

“But the milk must be marketed tomorrow. “

A better option than dumping may be to donate the product to local food banks, but an influx of donations of perishable goods presents challenges.

“Now having this tidal wave of milk and dairy products through their distribution can be overwhelming for them too,” said Wiens. Food banks may not have the storage capacity to refrigerate products that have yet to be processed from raw milk.

Watch: Trudeau Promises Food Banks Money

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with journalists in Ottawa on Friday. 1:56

A number of provincial dairy associations have told The Canadian Press that they are trying to donate excess milk.

The supply management system is now working to determine how long this evolution in demand will last, said Wiens, and whether the lost demand from food service customers will be offset by increases on the retail side.

Farmers could reduce production by reducing their herds or changing the diet of cows, he said. However, it takes time to be effective and creates a challenge to match demand when it returns to previous levels.

“These are unprecedented times. We really don’t have, you know, a story to fall back on. “

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