Milk crunch should ease as production, supply chains recover

Nearly 80 per cent of milk being produced on B.C. farms is now being picked up for processing, which is sufficient to meet the province’s immediate demand for fluid milk, according to the BC Dairy Association in a statement on Nov. 23.

“The supply chains are working and products are getting to the grocery stores. The shortages are temporary and we’re not aware of any systemic problems in the supply chain. It’s just taking time to get things due to limited access on the highways and road closures,” said the BC Dairy Association, sounding an optimistic note on milk supply.

The BC Milk Marketing Board had to suspend milk pickup at farms in a number of regions from last Tuesday due to the flooding and road closures. That created some difficulty supplying milk to fluid processing plants in B.C.

An estimated 75 per cent of the milk produced in B.C. was not picked up last week, forcing producers to dump it.

“Milk that we are not able to pick up is disposed of on-farm, composted within the farm’s manure storage structure,” a spokesperson said from the BC Milk Marketing Board, which is responsible for coordinating on-farm milk pick-up and delivery to processors. “This situation has been improving as we’ve been able to get trucks through Highway 7.”

Milk produced from the Okanagan and Kootenays is temporarily being shipped for processing in Alberta until the situation on Highway improves and milk can again be transported to the Lower Mainland for processing, according to BC Dairy.

Milk from farms in the eastern Fraser Valley is being trucked along Hwy 7. “This adds four to five hours to the drive time, but does allow milk to get through,” the association added. The added road time is however straining the transportation fleet and that means transport companies are not able to pick up all milk produced in the Fraser Valley.

This situation won’t improve until Hwy 1 through Abbotsford re-opens. The farms still flooded in the Sumas prairie represent about 14 per cent of the province’s milk volume, the BC Dairy spokesperson said.

Meanwhile BC Dairy has completed a preliminary assessment of the impacts of flooding on cattle and dairy farms in the Abbotsford and Yarrow area.

The association’s preliminary estimate is that of the approximately 23,000 cattle located in the region prior to the floods, about 500 have died as a result of flooding.

An estimated 6,000 cattle were evacuated to other farms in the Abbotsford, Chilliwack or Agassiz areas and are being cared for there, while an estimated 16,000 remained on their own farms.

BC Dairy says the number of deceased cattle may well rise should more flooding occur or more animals need to be euthanized due to health problems caused by the flooding. Sixty-two farms in the Abbotsford and Yarrow areas were under Evacuation Orders at the peak last week.

In an update on Monday (Nov. 22) B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said plans are now underway for the disposal of dead livestock.

“We’re working closely with the agricultural associations to understand their needs and we’re also working with local government on capacity in landfills and possible incineration areas,” Popham said.

BC Dairy added that it is working with the province, transport companies, farmers, and volunteers to ensure cattle remaining on impacted farms are housed, fed, and watered. Significant amounts of grain and supplies have been transported to the affected farms.

“While just one cow perishing in a natural disaster is disheartening, it is a credit to the tireless work of farmers, their families and volunteers that so many cattle were saved and so few lost,” says Holger Schwichtenberg, chair of the BC Dairy Association and a dairy farmer in Agassiz.

Schwichtenberg and his family operate one of the dozens of dairy farms that have taken in cattle from the flooded farms, ensuring they are housed, fed, and milked until able to return to their home farms.

The vast majority of milk produced in the province comes from the Lower Mainland-Fraser Valley region with 380 of the 470 licensed dairy farms in B.C., located in that area.

Milk is collected from these farms roughly every two days and shipped to roughly 35 processing plants in the province – including large plants in Abbotsford, Coquitlam and Vancouver – which pasteurize the milk.

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