By Ian Cumming and Connor Lynch
The question from Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) board member Nick Thurler to the visiting Chinese delegation at the DFO boardroom table, was the one on many people’s minds out in the Eastern Ontario countryside.
“What are you going to do if you can’t get enough goat milk?” Thurler asked.
With the Chinese company, Feihe, building a $225-million 280,000 sq. ft. plant in Kingston, now under construction, it will soon be in demand of 100 million litres of cow milk. But it will also need 75-million litres of goat milk — more than what the entire country of Canada produces. Canada produces 55 million litres. So folks naturally want to know how they’ll source enough goats to get their milk.
“We will build a 70,000-head milking unit,” Thurler was told.
That wouldn’t be anything new for Feihe. In an article in The Frontenac, Kingston’s head of Economic Development Richard Allen recounted how he was on an operation of this size in China. “Feihe plans to have seven such farms in operation by 2020,” Allen stated.
But how likely is Feihe to start its own 70,000-head goat farm near Kingston? “When they came to the board, they mentioned that they might have to build a goat farm,” Thurler told Farmers Forum in a later interview. “But it was quite a ways down the road. That was part of the plan too, not having enough right away, getting the notice out there to get producers milking more goats.”
The provincial government has given $24 million to the Chinese operation (controlled by the Chinese government) and is the largest Chinese investment in Canadian agriculture. There is no condition in the agreement to purchase milk from domestic producers. However, the grant is contingent on hiring 277 people, although there is no condition that those employed have to be Canadian residents.
To supply Feihe with goat milk, OMAFRA has been offering goat dairy farming education with many present and potential producers. But dealing with lower prices, producers are taking a wait-and-see attitude as to whether they should expand or start goat operations.
With goat milk slated to be received at the new plant in May, 2019, those new goat operations have to start building this year. But support doesn’t seem to be there. An April 11 email from OMAFRA’s agriculture and rural economic development advisor, Katie Nolan, sent to goat industry personnel, stated that OMAFRA did not possess the capability, or mandate, to build up an industry.
An eastern Ontario cash cropper wanting to diversify with a large goat operation, who wishes to remain unidentified, has been approved by his bank, “pending a contract” with Feihe to get into the dairy goat business. But in his last correspondence, the farmer said that Feihe told him it will get in touch with him in May regarding contract issues.
“I’m not holding my breath,” said the farmer. “I suspect this huge operation was the plan all along.”