By Connor Lynch
It’s a pain for some farmers, especially the ones doing paperwork by hand, but almost all dairy farmers understand why it’s happening. How much of a pain it is largely depends on how much of it you were doing already.
Dairy Farmers of Canada’s proAction program, a consumer-trust initiative, launched in 2015, and introduced Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) covering six areas: Milk quality assurance, animal care, traceability, food safety, biosecurity, and the environment. All have taken effect except the environmental one, and the biosecurity procedures, introduced in March, are still being implemented.
But of 10 dairy farmers that Farmers Forum spoke to, most said that proAction wasn’t much of a change. Daily operations for many were already similar to those required by the SOPs, so it mostly meant a bit of extra paperwork. It was more troublesome for smaller farmers and farmers not in programs like Canwest DHI. Larger farms and producers in those programs were already doing much of the work required by proAction, including having SOPs. Most farmers saw proAction as a necessity to maintain trust in their industry. One farmer said that proAction added five extra hours of work per month.
Morewood-area farmer Doug MacGregor, who milks 60 head, said that, as of mid-July, he was up to date on all the currently required standard operating procedures. Implementing proAction has meant a bit of change to his bookkeeping procedures. The program itself didn’t change much. “Not a lot of stuff in there that we weren’t doing before.”
The bulk of the heavy lifting has been in putting his SOPs together. MacGregor considers his operation a small family farm. “We don’t have a lot of employees, so we don’t have a lot of these things written out. Everybody knows what they’re supposed to do.” Putting together their SOPs has meant turning general familiarity into instructions clear and comprehensive enough that anyone could walk in off the street and do chores, he said. That takes time. “A lot of the bigger farms would probably already have that in place.”
But the program is meeting a consumer demand, he said, and heading off issues for the dairy industry before they arise. “Look back at the beef industry with BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy). That’s what we’re trying to prevent,” he said, suggesting more traceability could’ve headed off the BSE issue before it was widespread. BSE was a devastating blow to Canadian beef production, one that producers have said they’re still dealing with. There’s no question that proAction has added to his paperwork. “But that’s today’s society.”
Carleton Place dairy farmer Amanda O’Connell, who also milks 60 cows, has found the implementation process relatively painless. She uses a software program called DairyComp305, a Canwest DHI product that includes a proAction module. It helps out with proAction compliance, since O’Connell is continually inputting the data that proAction requires for the other programs, like animal care and traceability. Doing it by hand would be a different story, she said.
As of 2018, about 73 per cent of Ontario’s 3,481 herds were enrolled in Canwest DHI. The average herd size was 89, and 73 per cent of DHI herds had over 50 cows.
ProAction’s importance is in establishing accountability outside the farm, she said. Not just for consumers, but for farmers. “I think it’s good to have the milk inspectors in. We call it procedural drift: Sometimes, you don’t even realize you’re not doing the things you should be.”
O’Connell wasn’t convinced that consumers care much, if at all, about the program. Its usefulness to dairy farmers is in establishing a failsafe, she said. “We have to have it in case something happens, so we can prove we have these standards of inspection.”
According to the DFO, as of this March, 99 per cent of Canada’s farms are registered under proAction.
ProAction: A pain, but not an agonizing one
By Connor Lynch