With COVID-19, the dairy industry is one that has been hit very hard. In addition to challenges from restaurant closures, Canadian milk producers are competing with the growing business of plant based alternatives. Some say that the future looks bleak, while Alberta Milk remains confident. Ainsley O’Riley has the details.
In 1972 there were 42,000 dairy farms in Canada. There are currently 11,000. If this trend continues, that number will be cut in half by 2030.
“Dairy is not going anywhere. The sector is collapsing,” says Sylvain Charlebois, professor and director of agri-food business at Dalhousie University. He adds, “dairy farmers spend about $130 million a year to remind Canadians that they are producing a public good, and Canadians have the duty to consume that public good. That’s not a good business model”.
Alberta Milk argues the opposite, stating that they are finding innovative ways to drive consumers.
“We’re seeing stronger milk production than we’ve ever seen. We’re seeing innovation across the board from on our farms, to processors,” says Karlee Conway, Communications Manager at Alberta Milk.
In 2020 the industry of plant based alternatives in Canada grew by $300 million dollars; an increase of 31 percent in just one year. Consumers are looking for different opinions.
For the first time, In Saskatchewan, Regina based company Mera food group will bring production of Oat milk to the province. Agri-food is a clear economic driver in southern Alberta, and we could see the province opening its doors to similar operations.
“I think Alberta is finally seeing its potential in agri-food, and that would include alternatives for sure,” says Charlebois.
One quarter of the provinces dairy farmers are in southern Alberta; 150 dairy farmers. Alberta Milk says that when you buy milk, it could be from someone you know.
“You’re supporting that family that’s maybe on your hockey team, that sits on your church group, that contributes to your local fundraiser. These are local families that you’re supporting when you choose to buy dairy products”.