By Tom Collins
Thirty-two Eastern Ontario dairy farmers are getting a premium on their milk cheque because their cow’s milk contains omega-3 DHA.
The 60 Ontario farmers in the program feed the cows at least 2.4 kg of a fishmeal supplement daily to create omega-3 DHA milk. The farmers receive an extra four cents a litre and the extra feed cost is paid by the processors. The Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) estimates 78 million litres of the omega-3 milk will be produced this year.
Omega-3 DHA is a good fat that helps with brain and eye development, especially in children. It can also help lower the risk of heart disease in adults. Omega-3 foods and supplements are growing in popularity because of the benefits. Market research publisher Packaged Facts says $25.4 billion was spent worldwide in 2011 on foods and supplements with omega-3 acids, with North Americans accounting for 43 per cent of those sales. Packaged Facts estimated that sales will reach $34.7 billion this year.
In total, omega-3 milk — DFO’s largest niche market — makes up 2.75 per cent of Ontario’s milk production. By comparison, organic milk makes up about one per cent.
Omega-3 milk was first produced in Western Ontario in 2004 as a niche market for fluid milk, yogurt, ice cream and cheese. Three years later, Quebec’s Parmalat wanted to create omega-3 string cheese. Several Eastern Ontario dairy farmers signed up for the program and the milk is shipped to Victoriaville, Que., about two hours east of Montreal. Most of the milk in Western Ontario is also now shipped to the Quebec plant as 92 per cent of the omega-3 milk produced in Ontario is turned into string cheese in Quebec. Fluid milk makes up the other eight per cent and goes to two processors (Lactantia and Nielson) in Western Ontario.
DFO director of production and regulatory compliance George MacNaughton said the number of litres produced only changes when the plants need more or less milk depending on demand. And while there are no foreseeable changes in the near future, there are 15 other producers who have already expressed interest in the program.
But getting into the program isn’t as easy as a farmer putting his name on a waiting list. The DFO adds producers based on how efficient it is to fill a milk truck and deliver the feed supplement. A milk truck collects a maximum of 36,000 litres of milk. With a cow averaging 30 litres of milk a day, about 1,200 cows producing omega-3 milk is needed for an area to be in the program.
“If we can’t fill a trailer in a new area, we won’t do it,” said McNaughton.
But producing omega-three milk is not for everyone. Some farmers report cows have extra hoof problems because of the supplement, although McNaughton said studies show there was no statistical difference in hoof health between a omega-three herd and a conventional herd.