Dire times for dairy farmers
Canadian dairy farmers are angry, and it’s easy to see why. They have been losing income steadily for several years thanks to the almost limitless importation of milk protein concentrates and other dairy ingredients, most notably diafiltered milk.
Philip Stirnimann is a dairy farmer in SteEdwidge-de-Clifton and the president of the Coaticook Union des Producteurs Agricoles (UPA). “The annual loss in revenue to Canadian dairy farmers because of the importations of milk protein concentrates and diafiltered milk from the United States has been estimated at $200 million,” said Mr. Stirnimann in an interview with the Stanstead Journal.
Many Canadian dairy products are now being made using increasing amounts of these concentrated milk protein products instead of fresh Canadian milk and Canadian milk protein concentrates. The situation got worse, in 2012, when a new form of milk protein concentrate, diafiltered milk, began to be import- ed into Canada from the United States. “When the diafiltered milk comes to the border, it’s not classified as milk so it comes in without limits, without tariffs,” explained the dairy farmer. But once in the country, diafiltered milk gets a more ‘palatable’ classification from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). The CFIA classifies the highly processed substance as ‘milk’ when used in the production of cheese and yogurt. “Diafiltered milk is not even used in the United States. It is a product that was made just to pass the border. Big cheese and yogurt producing companies in Canada use diafiltered milk a lot,” he added.
Besides having a disruptive effect on Canada’s supply management system and the income of dairy farmers, the increased importation of diafiltered milk is also affecting the quality of our dairy products. “We have higher standards in Canada, better norms regarding the product and the environment. They use hormones in milk production in the United States, but Canadian milk is hormone-free.”
Philip, whose father came to Canada from Switzerland in 1978 to start a dairy farm, runs a large operation with one hundred and sixty milking cows. The average Quebec dairy farm milks forty cows. “I figure that I have about $10,000 less in revenues per month. But all the expenses for farm- ers, like machinery, the servicing of the machinery, employee salaries, and municipal taxes have all gone up. Dairy farms can be worth a lot but they have very high expenses. Last year, after farmers made all their payments, there wasn’t much left,” said the Coaticook UPA president.
The number of dairy farms being sold in the Coaticook MRC has increased in the last five years. “There is also uncertainty among the dairy farmers because of the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) deal. Every time we have uncertainty in the dairy sector there is selling. Some get out of the dairy business and go into large crop farming. It’s not just older farmers that are selling, but younger people who are discouraged.”
Mr. Stirnimann believes that Canadians have a “role to play as consumers” to help protect Canadian dairy farmers and all they bring to rural communities. “They should find out what’s in the dairy products that they are consuming.” If you’d like to make sure the cheese, yogurt or ice cream that you’re eating is made from Canadian milk, look for the ‘100 % Canadian milk’ cow symbol on your products. Fresh milk and cream sold in Canada is always 100 % Canadian.
With one hundred and ninety-three dairy farms in the Coaticook MRC, it’s not surprising to see the ‘100 % Canadian milk’ symbol on the ice cream and cheese products of the Laiterie de Coaticook, this year celebrating its 75th anniversary.
Philip Stirnimann runs a dairy farm in Ste-Edwidge-de-Clifton and is the president of the Coaticook UPA.