Okanagan dairy farmer forced to dump milk after COVID-19 induced drop in demand

FILE PHOTO - The B.C. dairy industry is facing an oversupply of milk since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down restaurants, coffee shops and other establishments.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing unpredictable upheavals in B.C.'s normally a calm and stable milk market.

Okanagan milk producer Michael Haak of Northview Dairy near Enderby says he recently had to dump 12,000 litres of milk in what will be a shared loss amongst the province’s dairy farmers.

“I’ve never had to do this before. It’s frustrating to see your hard work disposed of. The hardest part is you know there is a need and people are going through such a rough time now. To see it disposed of was incredibly hard,” he says.

B.C. Dairy Associaton general manager Jeremy Dunn says the industry saw a rapid spike in sales during the public’s initial rush into grocery stores.

“That was followed by closure orders for coffee shops, bakeries and hotels. There is a lot of dairy consumed in those organizations,” Dunn says.

The B.C. industry went from trying to keep up with the demand to now having to dispose of three per cent of its weekly milk supply.

“We were sending products to bakeries and restaurants in 100-litre barrels, now we’re trying to get as much product as possible into consumer retail packaging,” Dunn says.

“The supply chain is adjusting quite quickly, I think, but not fast enough. Milk has to leave the farm every two days, and it is quite perishable before it is processed,” he says.

The industry is dumping between 50,000 and 60,000 litres per day at present.

The dairy association was able to salvage 40,000 litres of milk last week, which was packaged into 10,000 four-litre containers and distributed to British Columbia food banks, Dunn says.

He says the challenge of distributing the milk to those in need comes from raw milk’s short, two-day life span.

“Cows are producing the same amount every day and if there is nowhere for it go it almost immediately needs to be disposed of,” he says.

Dumped milk is disposed of environmentally, generally placed in the manure pit to eventually be used as fertilizer in the field.

It was fortuitous last week that the product and the processing facilities were available to handle the surplus milk, but that hasn’t been the case since then.

“It’s a challenge, as things are changing on a daily basis. The last thing a farmer wants to see is waste. They are set up to be as efficient as possible,” he says.

Kamloops Blackwell Dairy Vice President Laura Hunter says the original impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was everyone was buying more milk.

Her dairy had no problem keeping up with demand, but was limited by the amount of shelf space allocated to them as a small dairy,  in the grocery stores.

“Every day is different. We can put more product on shelves, it’s just a matter of consumers asking for it. I know dairy farmers have been asked to dump milk, but a few weeks ago we were asked to increase production. It hasn’t been consistent, and it’s difficult to predict what the next day’s order will be, 5,000 or 10,000 litres?” she says.

Hunter said as a small dairy they work closely with food banks to make sure they receive any unsold milk.

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