By Clinton Monchuk
With mixed messaging about empty store shelves and pictures/videos of farmers dumping raw milk in the Covid-19 world we live in, consumers are asking, why and do we have enough milk? Well… the short answer is yes, yes we do have milk, and frankly lots of it! However, the long answer is a little more complicated, here’s why…
I grew up milking cows as our family dairy milked between 35 and 50 cows every day, twice a day. The interesting thing about a dairy farm is it doesn’t stop. We milked cows on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and through weather events from snowstorms to tornadoes. You just can’t turn off a cow from producing milk when it’s not convenient for you.
All the forecasting, projections and crystal ball gazing would not have predicted the current global calamity we’re currently in with Covid-19. In a society that was very accustomed to social interaction, we now find ourselves staying home for work and school. To do this we all stocked up so grocery stores struggled to keep shelves full and the foodservice industry that previously provided food through restaurants and school meal programs slowed down to just a trickle of food through home delivery services.
This is an abrupt change in how people are consuming food. The supply system that brings consumers food is changing, but it cannot change overnight. Grocery stores were set up for consumers to purchase milk once a week, not two weeks at once. This rapid change in consumer shopping patterns has created some short-term shortages.
Also, when was the last time you purchased large amounts of sour cream for baking or cooking? Although this may not have been high volume item on your grocery list, it is a product that’s used in a larger quantity by restaurants and bakeries. With closures of restaurants and bakeries, there has been a lot less demand for further processed dairy products like sour cream.
Together this creates a surplus of milk used for foodservice dairy products, like sour cream but shortages of milk for the grocery stores. This is also why, in the short-term, some farmers will be asked to dump fluid milk. It is a fresh unpasteurized product, with a limited shelf life and until the system adjusts there is no other place for the milk to go. This only happens after all other options are exhausted. And it should be noted that dairy farmers and processors are donating significant volumes of dairy products to food banks in order to support Canadians in need, but they cannot delivery truckloads of unpasteurized milk.
Things will soon adjust. Canadians will come to a ‘new normal’ of living and our food system will have altered some of the processing capabilities to adapt to this situation. Our Canadian food supply has not been shorted and store shelves will continue to have dairy products into the future. So yes, we’ve got milk!
I also wanted to share this Twitter thread from Dairy Farmer Andrew Campbell who summarizes the current situation:
I’ve seen over the last few days a lot of stories, comments and mixed messages about farmers having to dump milk.
I thought I’d clear a few things up as the perspective from the farm.
— Andrew Campbell (@FreshAirFarmer) April 8, 2020
Read More from the Dairy Farmers of Canada>