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P.E.I. dairy farmers adjust to reduced, different demands as pandemic realigns the food landscape

A worker at ADL stacks boxes at the dairy processor's Summerside facility in this file photo.
A worker at ADL stacks boxes at the dairy processor's Summerside facility in this file photo.


P.E.I. dairy farmers are adjusting to reduced demand for milk as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic realigns the food landscape.

“Consumptions’s down generally,” said Gordon MacBeath, chairman of the Dairy Farmers of Prince Edward Island.

“You take the average person who bought a coffee with lunch or a bagel with cream cheese in the morning, that’s happening in the home now instead of in the drive-thru. So it’s switched where the point of purchase is in a major way. All of a sudden, people want that cream cheese in a small container that they can take home as opposed to a restaurant buying in volume,”

Other provinces are reporting photos of milk flowing out of trucks, un-needed for the marketplace, but so far, P.E.I. has escaped that level of waste.

“We haven’t had to dump milk at this point. We’re doing everything we can to ensure that we don’t.

P.E.I. has limited production on farms and has started to increase donations to food banks and other organizations to bring the milk in line with what the demand is.

MacBeath became the chairman of the association just last week. He and his son milk 100 cows on Goldenflo Holsteins in Marshfield.

Some farmers are putting cows out to pasture, taking advantage of the slow market to “dry off” some of their herd, with the expectation that the animals will be back in the barn later in the summer or when pandemic restrictions ease.

Other animals may be culled and sold for meat, but MacBeath said that market has also slowed.

“There’s no one answer, it’ll be a combination of things,” he said. “Financially, farmers are going to be selling less milk. That’s going to have a direct impact on their bottom line, but every business is dealing with that, so we recognize we have to deal with that as well.”

ADL

Jamie MacPhail
Jamie MacPhail

Jamie MacPhail of Summerside-based Amalgamated Dairies Ltd. said they are feeling the effects of the declining commercial demand but haven’t yet had to lay off any staff.

“Our staff deserve a lot of credit. They’re stying healthy, They’re following the protocols and they’re showing up to work every day to ensure dairy’s on the grocery store shelves for Islanders and Canadians,” said MacPhail.

In Charlottetown, Purity Dairy Ltd. is also operating a full staff, said general manager Tom Cullen.

Purity Dairy is a fluid milk dairy producing milk, chocolate milk and other milk beverages like eggnog as well as sour cream, supplying customers in Queens and Kings County.

The plant’s 20 staff members are used to the high level of hygiene typical of all fluid milk plants, but Purity is taking extra care to step up cleaning of high-touch surfaces, said Cullen.

“Sales are very strong in some segments of customers like retail grocery stores. Then, of course, we have other areas, restaurants, schools, daycares etcetera, where sales are close to nil,” said Cullen. “Families are having more meals at home and are buying more milk because of that, so home consumption is up for sure.”

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