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Restaurant closures mean less demand for Manitoba milk: farmers’ association

Dairy cows.
Dairy cows. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

One of the unexpected consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the closure of some types of businesses has led to struggles in other industries as well.

David Wiens, of Dairy Farmers of Manitoba, told 680 CJOB that his members are dealing with an excess of milk, due to coronavirus-related lack of demand from retailers.

“The drop in demand has been primarily due to the restaurant and hotel industry basically being shut down on the food service side, so that’s greatly reduced our demand,” he said.

READ MORE: Manitoba dairy farmers concerned over NAFTA replacement deal

While consumers continue to buy milk and other dairy products like cheese and butter at a similar pace as they did before the pandemic, Wiens said there’s a lot of uncertainty about what kind of a situation the industry will be looking at going forward.

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“It’s a fairly volatile demand, even on the milk,” he said.

“It tends to be going up and down quite a bit, but it’ll be interesting to see where exactly it settles out as people get into the new routine with COVID-19.”

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One benefit for Manitoba dairy farmers, he said, is that they haven’t had to discard large amounts of raw product — a problem plaguing the industry in other parts of the country.

David Wiens
David Wiens. Amber McGuckin / Global News

“Right across the country, we’re seeing there’s a major amount of raw milk that’s being discarded simply because the processors can’t take any more… their customers aren’t requiring any more,” said Wiens.

“We’ve been fortunate in Manitoba that we’ve not had to discard raw milk, but what’s happened here — because of our dairy processing situation over the past few years — is we’ve been receiving milk from Saskatchewan and Alberta to help fill the plants that we have in Manitoba.

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“Now that there’s a sudden drop in demand, we’re not taking in milk from Saskatchewan or Alberta — or a lot less — so that means there’s still room for Manitoba milk to be processed.”

Excess milk that is produced in this province, said Wiens, goes to a good cause.

“We’re having discussions with Winnipeg Harvest and with some of our processors… we know that, for example, Bothwell Cheese is also wanting to work together with us to increase the amount of dairy product donations to Winnipeg Harvest.

“We know that through COVID-19, if anything, the demand at the food banks will only increase, so we’re pleased to be part of increasing our donation to the food banks here.”

B.C. dairy farmers dumping product due to COVID-19
B.C. dairy farmers dumping product due to COVID-19