Saskatchewan

Sask. dairy farmers dumping excess milk due to market changes caused by COVID-19

Dairy farmers in Saskatchewan are being forced to dump their excess milk, amid a changing marketplace due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

'Our processors are not really accepting more milk,' says dairy farmer Matthew Flaman

Dairy farmers have to find ways to reduce their output during the COVID-19 crisis to prevent excess milk from being dumped. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

With needs constantly changing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, dairy producers in Saskatchewan and around the world are being forced to dump their milk.

Matthew Flaman, a dairy farmer in the Vibank, Sask., area, said government regulations in western Canada about how restaurants can operate during the pandemic have created challenges in the marketplace. 

Due to the market changes brought on by COVID-19, SaskMilk said excess milk must be dumped. 

"It turns out that it's sort of a backlog right through our whole system; our processors are not really accepting more milk," Flaman said. 

"It's really of no fault of their own; they can't move the product on the other end of their supply chain."

He said what's being dumped represents a small percentage of what's in the system. 

Flaman, who also sits on the SaskMilk board, said the cost of the milk dumping is shared across dairy farmers in western Canada. 

He said going forward, farmers are going to see a price hit but he was unsure of what exactly that would amount to. 

The market is changing on a week-to-week and even a day-by-day basis, he said. 

"I don't think we can peg right now where exactly we're going to end by the end of the month and into subsequent months," Flaman said. "Who knows how long this pandemic is going to last." 

Farmers tightening production: SaskMilk

Joy Smith, a SaskMilk spokesperson, said everyone involved in the supply chain is trying their best to adapt to the new market. 

"We think that as things level off and as things get figured out, it'll become a bit of a new normal," she said. "Hopefully that means we'll be better able to predict what's going to happen." 

She said there are efforts underway to donate the excess milk rather than having to dump it, however the challenges at the processing level are making that difficult.

SaskMilk is working with other provinces and processors in the Canadian Dairy Commission to resolve the processing issues, which Smith said has been successful so far.

A SaskMilk statement published earlier this month said dairy farms can't reduce the amount of milk they produce overnight. In order to keep cows comfortable and healthy they must be milked. 

Smith said dairy farmers are tightening their production but that has to be done in a responsible way so producers can adjust to the market and still meet the supply that's needed.

Who knows how long this pandemic is going to last.- Matthew Flaman, dairy farmer

Flaman said tightening production can be done in a number of different ways and each farm will find its own way to go about it. 

He said some dairy cows, who were at the end of their production life, could be taken to the beef markets a bit earlier than intended. Other cows will be "dried up" and they won't be milked earlier than planned. 

Some farms, he said, could also look at reducing each cow's milk output through their diet. 

"We don't know exactly how far we need to go," he said. 

"But the milk boards currently have put restrictions on farmers and hopefully that's enough that we can eliminate this raw milk dumping."

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