Dairy farmers across Canada are quite literally spilling their milk as demand undergoes changes amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“We actually dumped on Monday,” said Liz Van Loo, the owner and operations manager at Silktassel Farms near Owen Sound, Ont.
“It was a lot of milk to dispose of.”
The dairy farmer dumped nearly 10,000 litres of milk after she was told to do so by a Dairy Farmers of Ontario representative.
“It’s a lot of work producing milk,” Van Loo said. “I’m sure there’s people that can use it — that was really upsetting to me.”
Last week, Dairy Farmers of Ontario informed producers that disposing of milk would be necessary on a select and rotating basis.
“These unprecedented times have called for unprecedented measures within the dairy supply chain, largely driven by a reduction in a demand from food service providers and the hospitality industry,” Cheryl Smith, the CEO of Dairy Farmers of Ontario, said in a statement Tuesday.
“Disposing of milk is an extraordinary measure, and one that Dairy Farmers of Ontario has only ever considered in emergency situations.”
Dairy processors are having issues as well, with some having lost almost 100 per cent of their business overnight, according to Christina Lewis, the president of the Ontario Dairy Council, which represents dairy product manufacturers.
“On the flip side, the retail market is probably slightly above normal with their orders right now, but we’re filling all of the orders,” Lewis said, adding that some people may be confused when they see buying limits on dairy products at grocery stores or shelves that have low stock.
“There’s no problem providing what the retailers need, but there is other logistical problems that keep that product from getting to the shelf quick enough.”
According to Lewis, product manufacturers are taking as much milk from dairy farmers as they can, although they can’t take it all, which has resulted in some milk getting dumped.
“A big part of the market dried up overnight,” she said. “Cows don’t turn off the same way…There’s only so many things we can do with that milk, and that’s the challenge.”
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Across the rest of Canada, it’s a similar picture.
“COVID-19 has basically closed down the restaurant business, and to an extent, the food service industry,” David Wiens, the vice-president of Dairy Farmers of Canada, told Global News.
“They were also very heavy users of dairy product, particularly cream, and so very quickly, almost overnight, the demand for cream has gone way, way down from where it was.”
Initially when the COVID-19 crisis began, there was a spike in milk sales, which balanced out the drop in demand for cream, Wiens said. But that has now levelled off.
“There has been an increase in the retail side, but the increase in retail hasn’t been sufficient to offset the decline of food service,” said Mathieu Frigon, CEO and president of the Dairy Processors Association of Canada.
Demand for milk has stayed stable or has gone up slightly, according to Frigon, while it’s dropped significantly for cream, as well as for cheese.
“We saw a decline in demand for dairy products,” Frigon said.
“We’ve seen a rapid shift in consumption patterns like we’ve never seen before.”
Wiens said Dairy Farmers of Canada has been looking at donating as much milk as possible to food banks across the country.
“We’re looking at our processing partners to process the milk and make it available to food banks across the country,” he said.
That’s important for farmers like Van Loo, who doesn’t want to see the milk go to waste.
“I hate seeing food wasted,” she said. “A few weeks from now, they could be crying for it, and then it’s not going to be there.”