Dairy Dilemma

Uncertainty. Instability. A constantly changing environment. In this pandemic this is true for many sectors of the economy and of course for most of our readers in their personal lives too. The dairy industry and your local dairy farmers are no exception to this. Although farming has rightfully been deemed an essential service, this does not insulate nor protect us from a rapidly evolving market and changes in consumer habits.

When social and physical distancing measures came into place a few weeks ago, demand for dairy products surged as our consumers tried to anticipate and plan for the unknown. Was a total lockdown imminent? This led to millions of consumers stocking up on essentials, including milk. Grocery stores struggled to keep milk on the shelves and soon limited the amount of dairy products each consumer could purchase. Farmers were asked to produce more milk to meet this increased demand.

But at the same time, different aspects of the marketplace were also in flux. Restaurants and coffee shops either closed or began operating at reduced capacity. This has led to a reduction in demand for dairy products packaged in ways that are not usually available in your grocery stores: think of butter in tiny containers, bulk shredded cheese for pizza companies, 250mL milk cartons for schools, etc, etc. It’s no easy task for processing companies to switch to retail ready packaging and involves so many logistical layers, such as a bigger supply of bottles, containers, and labels, different packing lines, and so on. Our provincial dairy boards and dairy processors have been scrambling to keep up with this rapidly evolving situation. Obviously this is something that our boards and processors have never before experienced nor is it something they could have planned for.

Dairy farmers and their boards and committees have donated excess milk to food banks. We’ve donated funds to charities and non-profits to help them purchase dairy products for the needy in our communities. Our boards have done their utmost to try to avoid wasting milk but some farms have now been asked to dispose of the milk in their bulk tanks to eliminate the excess supply.

It’s devastating watching perfectly good, nutritious milk not end up where it was meant to be: in your fridge and on your table.

While we are very aware that we are so fortunate to still have a job to go to every single day, seeing the product of our hard work go down the drain just hurts. I won’t sugar coat that. The farmers who will be asked to dispose of their milk will be compensated; it’s a loss that will be shared across provincial milk pools. All dairy farmers will share this burden of lost income equally. We all are hopeful this will be a very temporary measure and that stability will soon return to the market, allowing our boards to more easily anticipate and plan for a balance in supply and demand. That’s the whole goal of our Canadian supply managed dairy system: we balance the needs of our consumers with the supply of milk from our family farms. But cows don’t have a tap that we can turn on and off. If a cow produces 30L of milk today, she will do that tomorrow too, and the next day, and the next, and the next. It is thus very difficult to react quickly to sudden market fluctuations.

How can you help? Buy milk. Purchase some cheese or ice cream to enjoy with your family. Enjoy real cream (dare I mention whipping cream?) in your home brewed coffee. The milk is here, it’s available, it’s ready to be processed, shipped to the retailers, then purchased by you to feed your families. Please be patient with us. We ask for your understanding as our industry tries to adjust to this new, strange environment. We pray that extreme measures like disposing of milk will be short lived and that solutions will be quickly found to find a way for this milk to end up on your table.

Rest assured that your farmers are still working hard to provide you and your families with top quality, ethically produced, nutritious dairy. This is a tough time for our industry (as it is for so many sectors) but our commitment to our animals and to you our consumers has not wavered. We’re here for you. Be safe. Be well. Much love to you all.

Easter on the Farm

Spring has sprung in the Fraser Valley and here at Creekside Dairy! I always find that Easter weekend really marks the beginning of a new season on our dairy farm. Although some field work, such as spreading manure for fertilizing our crops, has been ongoing for a few weeks already, Easter seems to be the essence of all things Spring. The grass takes on a brighter hue of green, daffodils bloom in my pots in front of the barn doors, and tiny leaves have appeared on the willow trees along our creek. In fact, the explosion of growth and lushness makes one feel that the fence-posts themselves could sprout leaves soon! And the scents of Spring, oh the scents: freshly turned earth, flower blossoms, freshly mown lawns, and yes, even the hint of manure, all blended together in an intoxicating, invigorating bouquet of aromas that make a farmer’s heart sing.

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It’s interesting how different seasons evoke different emotions in a farmer. For example, autumn tends to engender thankfulness at the conclusion of a season’s hard work and the bountiful harvests of corn and grass, while the beginning of winter can involve feelings of relief at the thought of a more restful period of time on the farm and an appreciation for the homely comforts of a warm barn full of content cows. However, I personally feel that the expectancy and hope brought about by the beginning of the growing season cannot be rivalled. In spite of the certain knowledge that the coming season is the busiest, most labour intensive of all, this season of rejuvenation and new growth also brings with it excitement and anticipation for great things to come. Choosing seed, planning crop rotations, and getting the ground ready for a new growing season all form a part of the patchwork that make this season the busy and joyful time that it is. Easter also usually marks the start of a new season of cows on pasture. We look forward to it for months, this day when our “girls” gallop out of the barn door to kick up their heels and cavort in the lush grass; the joy they display is delightful, endearing, and incredibly infectious.

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Photos like this one will soon fill our Facebook and Twitter feeds. Find both in the left hand margin of this blog.

 

For our farm family, Easter is a time of togetherness. School is closed for Spring Break prior to Easter, and so the kids have more time to spend roaming the barns, interacting with their favourite cows and calves. Buddy seats in the closed-cab tractors are often occupied by future farmers during early field work, and small boots often walk beside our own during the afternoon milking shift. This break from routine culminates in a family dinner on Easter Monday, complete with an Easter egg hunt around the farm yard. This time spent around the table partaking in a home-made feast of fresh and colourful spring-y foods and fine wines provides us a chance to enjoy one another’s company in preparation for the hectic season ahead when leisurely family meals will be few and far between, replaced often by quick and easy picnic-style meals in the field. Come Fall, we’ll definitely be eager to once again take our places around the table to reflect on the season behind us and enjoy Thanksgiving dinner together after the busyness of spring and summer have passed.

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Fellow farmers and farm friends, we wish you a happy, safe, and successful growing season. May your crops be abundant, your cows healthy, happy, and productive, and your family safe and happy during these next few months and all through the year. Happy growing!

*this article first appeared on BC Dairy’s website. Find it here.*