Ontario farmers dump 1.7 million litres of milk
One farmer dumped milk last year but got no compensation
WESTERN ONTARIO — Nobody picked up the tab when bad winter weather forced Meaford-area dairy farmer Paul Vickers to dump milk last winter. So he was unimpressed when the Dairy Farmers of Ontario recently announced that he and all other producers must share the cost of milk dumped by their comrades during the Christmas weekend blizzard.
About 40% of Ontario’s 3,300 dairy farmers had to dump about 1.7 million litres of milk due to the continental weather system that lashed the province, leaving roads impassable to traffic and milk tanker trucks Dec. 23-24. While standing DFO policy would have compelled only the affected farmers to swallow that cost, the organization made a one-time change ensuring all producers pay for the spilled milk with a 2.5-cents-per-litre cut on their December milk cheques.
Vickers, who missed no milk pickups during the recent storm, wasn’t so lucky one year ago. There was no “hint of concern” from DFO then, he said. Vickers expects a $1,700 cut in his milk cheque to reimburse farmers for the recent storm, on top of a similar loss when he had to dump milk on two ocassions last winter. He dumped a total 2,000 litres when winter weather prevented the milk truck from its regular every-other-day pickup at his farm. In one instance, the truck got stuck on a hill.
“If the rules were good back in February and March … then why aren’t they all of a sudden good now?” he asked. Vickers has a problem with retroactive policy changes because people complain. It’s an example of bad governance, he said.
“If they want to change the rules and the policies to say they will pay for any milk that can’t be picked up because of a storm-related road closure (going forward) then I’m fine with it,” he added.
Any dairy farmer with a standard “master dairy” insurance policy would have coverage for dumping milk, he also pointed out, though there is a deductible and it might be easier to just eat the cost — as Vickers did last winter.
Vickers explained that his situation last winter was exacerbated by the fact that he didn’t have much excess capacity in his bulk tank
Most affected farmers at Christmas time dumped only once but some lost consecutive pickups and had to dump twice. Marin den Hertog, who farms with his son in Exeter, was in that boat.
“The weather was a mess,” den Hertog recalled of the storm. “It was chaos.”
He said they had to dump on Friday, Dec. 23, and again on Christmas Day — about $16,000 worth of milk from the 130-cow operation. But instead of that loss, they’re being paid for the milk that never shipped but will see about $3,000 cut from the farm’s incoming milk cheque, an outcome den Hertog considered fair.
His other son farms in Seaforth and also had to dump a load, he reported.
Den Hertog has talked to a few dairy farmers and none begrudged the cost-sharing arrangement imposed by DFO. “People are not complaining.”
Elmira dairy producer Henk Schuurmans didn’t have to dump milk at his farm but said he was OK with sharing the burden with those that did. “We all have to be good with it. We’re all in this together,” said Schuurmans, who milks about 300 cows between two different farm locations.
“Our ability to share in the impact of this natural occurrence is among the greatest strengths of our system,” DFO said in a statement. “While there are several key learnings through this challenging time, we remain thankful for our transporter and processor partners for trying to make the best of an extremely difficult circumstance.”
DFO also said that the dumping of milk had no impact on the supply of milk and dairy products to consumers.
Paul Hetherington, general manager of the Ontario Milk Transport Association, couldn’t say for certain how many milk trucks were pulled off their routes during the blizzard. Two tankers did end up in the ditch, he reported, one in Western Ontario and one in Eastern Ontario.