The mind goes precisely the way a road shouldn’t, in fits and breaks. During the groggy moments of morning I began to wonder about prestidigitation; the act of misdirection, sleight of hand. Not a usual preoccupation, but when milk makes World news and threatens international trade agreements, “the usual” becomes increasingly relative. So with my coffee still grim ages away, sleight of hand retained a certain appeal.
This latest misdirection took place in Wisconsin. A place thought of so little it’s somewhat jarring to suddenly be confronted with it, but down the rabbit hole we were all thrown. We now know that Wisconsin is at peak cow. All of their dairies are at full capacity, and yet the amount of milk being produced is still increasing. In the past, some of the surplus milk was finding its way into our country, but no longer is that the case. Our government took steps necessary to protect our dairy industry. Placing the necessities of life in the hands of someone you have no or little influence over is dangerous and eventually very costly.
My coffee had amazingly emerged from whatever time dilation it had been playing with and I added a generous helping of milk before taking a greedy swig. It occurred somewhere between sips 3 and 5 that maybe we could all use this latest American misdirection for some good. With milk on the collective brain, let’s examine the state of milk on a local level.
Our dairy industry is surprisingly strong with 5,600 cows producing over 48.5 million litres of milk annually, according to NL government statistics. This production is more than enough to met our needs and is still increasing. In fact we are a net exporter of fluid milk. Those same statistics showed us to consume 65.6 litres per person per annum and with our current population of 526,702, we in total consume a little more than 34.5 million litres of milk. Meaning we are exporting over 14 million litres of milk fluids annually and rising.
There are a couple of glaring deficiencies however; Firstly, an average 15% of our livestock forage is imported every year, which is costly for our farmers and in turn us. Next and probably most galling is that we have little to no secondary milk processing (like turning milk into cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream, fresh cream etc).
Our position as a net exporter of milk fluids is actually an opportunity lost. Our surplus milk gets pumped into trucks driven, and shipped to the Mainland, processed, packaged, stacked back onto trucks and driven back to us. We lose jobs, we lose tax revenue, we lose control of dairy prices, and our cost of living goes up.
That being said, it may not surprise you to learn that we pay among the highest prices for milk and dairy products of any of the provinces. So where do we go from here?
Our Provincial government has recently opened up more crown land for agricultural development which is positive, but will amount to little without support. The next step needs to be supporting the growth of livestock feed, and the establishment of a provincial dairy for secondary processing of milk fluids. Both of these measures would create jobs, tax revenue, and ultimately lower the cost of living.