Milk dumping: A look at why donating or processing it instead is a challenge
LONDON, ONT. -- You asked, we answered. There was an outcry after CTV News's story regarding farmers being asked to dump milk.
On Sunday, farmer John Walker of Aylmer, Ont. explained why the milk was being poured down the drain.
"We can't turn the cows off," says Walker. "They are full of milk every day for us.”
On Friday and Saturday Walker was asked to take his milk, and dispose of it.
"There is just nowhere for it to go," says Walker. "Schools, restaurants and even Tim Hortons' amount of cream is down. Those are all things that have slowed down demand for our product right now."
Viewers of CTV News flooded our Facebook page and email inbox with a couple of key questions.
They asked: Why can't it be given to food banks?
"It's not just hauling a can of milk off the farm and taking it to the food bank, "says Dave Weins, vice-president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC).
"It has to be processed. They also can't just take suddenly huge volumes of milk or dairy products because they don't have the storage for it. It's just hard to change things at the spur of the moment, they can't accept five times as much milk."
The Ontario Dairy Council says there is a joint program for donating.
"Farmers donate the milk, transporters donate time to take it dairy plant, and the plants donate the packaging, processing and distribution costs. Between the three players we donate a million litres per year," says Christina Lewis, president of the Ontario Dairy Council (ODC).
"In order to increase that there is a cost to that. Transporters are short staffed, and dairy plants are experiencing absenteeism. There is more logistics to distribute it, so needs more thinking behind that."
And why are there buying limits at grocery stores?
The dumping also comes at a time when customers are complaining to CTV News that grocery stores are limiting them to one to two bags of milk - when it's available.
"Consumer demand is shifting on a day-to-day basis," says Lewis.
"There is no shortage of fluid milk products. Processors are filling retail orders at an extremely high fill rate, including extra milk orders from retailers. There is challenges on how it gets to shelf whether is distribution, or whether it’staff getting it on the shelf. It’s not a dairy issue, it’s not a grocery issue.”
Due to the pandemic, all levels along the chain from the farm to the shelf is moving at a slower rate.
"What has happened with COVID-19 is a dramatic impact on the way we do things," says Wiens.
"On retail, selling directly to consumers, those demands are fluctuating. The demand for table milk is finding a new level, and so the processors have to adjust what they are putting milk into."
The distribution network from processors to retail has to adjust because of a different set of products and demand.
"Things have changed so dramatically from product to product they are scrambling to make changes in production to meet demand," Wiens says.
He says that due to COVID-19 every stakeholder along the chain is impacted. From production to transportation and processing, getting milk going as efficiently as usual is a challenge.
Producers told publication Ontario Farmer that they projected five million litres will be wasted across the country weekly. They also state the farmers will be paid for the milk that is dumped.
This is the just the second time farmers have been asked by the Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) to dispose of raw milk.
"Disposing of milk is an extraordinary measure, and one that Dairy Farmers of Ontario has only ever considered in emergency situations," Cheryl Smith, chief executive officer of DFO said in a statement.
"Yet, this week, we informed producers that these measures would be necessary on a select and rotating basis," Smith says.
"Ontario producers continue to do their part to nourish Canadians with high-quality milk, and we are working very closely with processors and industry groups to respond to the unpredictable market fluctuations that are now part of our current environment."
Walker says he believes the staff at the DFO are working hard to figure this out, which is a tough job.
"Farmers, and many other industries are all feeling it in the province," says Walker. "The quicker we get through this the better."