COVID-19: Dairy association wants Okanagan-Shuswap milk supply to flow smoothly

Changes to consumer demand from pandemic have left thousands of litres of B.C. milk being dumped

These are unprecedented times for dairy farmers, with some of them having to dump the milk that is both food and their livelihood. (Pixabay)

Now is a good time to fulfill your desire for milk, cream, yogurt and all-things dairy, says the president of the Kamloops Okanagan Dairy Association.

Henry Bremer, whose organization represents dairy farmers from Kamloops to Lumby, said the thought of dumping milk is just as abhorrent to dairy farmers as it is to consumers. He estimated on April 8 that, as of the previous five days or so, 40,000 litres of milk per day had been dumped in B.C.

“It is very heartbreaking. We work hard to produce a high-quality product, and there are lots of people in the world who need a quality product. When we have to just open the drain it hurts.”

He said he believes 40,000 litres of milk were processed last weekend for the food banks.

“Instead of dumping, they got to process it. But then they need to have enough spare capacity within the milk plants to get that done as well; it takes a fair bit of coordination.”

To put 40,000 litres in context, he said that’s the amount one of the shiny double tanker trucks holds. Bremer said there are probably 50 of those double tanker trucks produced in B.C. per day, maybe a little more.

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“I guess a big part of it is the restaurant trade has had such a complete cutback. To date the retail market hasn’t made up the whole difference.”

However, if consumers were able to step up their consumption now that restaurants have been closed, that would help – but the solution appears to be more complicated, he said. For instance, some stores are reporting a shortage of milk products.

“Everybody is dealing with an unprecedented situation so there’s a lot of surmising going on.”

He added the proviso that he represents the local dairy farmers: “I’m not the person ultimately in charge, this is second hand.”

He said the BC Dairy Association has been working with retailers and government to make sure milk gets to where it’s still short.

For the farmers, the BC Milk Marketing Board determines where their milk goes.

They find a home for our milk, wherever that is. They actually work within the four western provinces to find a home for our milk, so it’s not just a regional problem or a provincial problem, it’s actually the whole country is the issue, but our milk board works within western Canada…”

He said the milk board makes sure all the processors in B.C. have enough milk, and if there’s too much, normally they would coordinate it between B.C. and Alberta – if they’re short in Alberta, then B.C. milk will go to Alberta – and sometimes Alberta milk would come to B.C.

Bremer wonders if the over-supply is part of a reaction to the limiting that was happening when some stores were actually short.

“That feeds itself back through the system to the point that sales go down and all of a sudden there’s too much milk.”

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Bremer explains that many integrated parts come together to provide milk.

“It’s a highly integrated system. Milk gets produced and, every day, that milk has to find a home to get processed, then from the processor it has to get to the retailer, quite often it flows through certain warehouses, and then the warehouses have to ship products every day to a store and the store doesn’t really have the extra inventory – so it’s a highly integrated system and that system has gotten messed up with this whole shutdown around COVID.

“The reaction at first was we were short of milk, and the next reaction was we had too much milk. It’s a trickle-back system and highly integrated and pretty frustrating on our end.”

All milk is pasteurized so it must go through a processing plant. The only dairies in the region that have their own plants are D Dutchmen in Sicamous and Blackwell in Kamloops, he said, as well as some small cheese places.

Regarding dumping, Bremer says the milk will go into a farm’s manure pit, if there is room, and then back onto the fields as fertilizer. The milk board organizes a route that picks up that much milk and then they’ll have all the farmers on that route dump. They move that around the province so not every area is affected.

Financially, all the players will eventually share in the loss if the dumping continues, not just the farmers. But the hurt is not just financial.

“Hopefully this (dumping) is coming to an end,” Bremer said. “I think every farmer has a deep hurt within them of seeing good milk go to waste. It’s a painful thing to have to go through. And pretty much unprecedented within modern times. I guess that’s been the whole story with COVID, unprecedented within modern times.”


marthawickett@saobserver.net

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