In the past few weeks, all regions of Quebec have been hit by a second wave of COVID-19. This crisis, which we have now endured for more than six months has resulted in major disruptions and problems. It has, however, also provided opportunities. Like other industries, the dairy sector is not immune to the consequences of this world-wide pandemic.
This unforeseen virus can destabilize even the most resilient among us. It is not easy to remain confident in the face of the unknown. However, although we are not able to control the unpredictable, we can take steps to deal with it, and that is exactly what we are striving to do. In cooperation with various players in the dairy industry, we have devoted significant efforts to implement a range of measures.
Indeed, our national butter and cheese storage programs have brought greater flexibility to our supply management system, a system that is continually evolving and adapting. Our producers, you have also had to adjust to these troubled times, because the imposition of three months of production restrictions has radically changed your farming plans. However, your solidarity in the application of this measure has helped it achieve the intended results. Furthermore, I can personally testify to the fact that during difficult times we learn very quickly. In the past few months, I have also received the complete cooperation of very dedicated employees who have your success at heart.
Since the very beginning of the crisis, we have taken a collective responsibility for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Strengthened health, prevention and biosafety measures have been implemented from the farm to the processor. It is essential that we continue these efforts so that the largest possible number of people remains healthy. I am counting on you to continue to ensure two metres distancing, to wash your hands and the surfaces you touch frequently, and to wear a mask, when required. We must be particularly careful when interacting with transporters and stakeholders, so as to keep the supply chain intact and continue to feed the population. Reducing the spread of this virus is everyone’s responsibility.
This situation has also had positive effects. Retail sales of many dairy products, such as drinking milk, cream, ice cream, butter and cheese have seen increases of 8 to 12% in the past six months. This growth confirms that consumers are true to our products even though the pandemic has changed how and where they purchase and consume food. However, the situation is fragile because regional recovery in restaurants, hotels and other businesses is slow and could be hampered by a second wave. Farm production has been recovering nicely since July and additional days ensure that production is in line with market demand. We are closely monitoring butter and cheese stocks, as well as imports resulting from the last three trade agreements in order to make the right decisions.
In the past few months, our governments and the population have both expressed their desire for greater food self-sufficiency. The common goal is to consume local produce, to consume green and to reduce our dependence on foreign products. This wish for self-sufficiency is at the very heart of our agricultural supply management model, and we must seize the opportunity. The government must be consistent in its policy making and move swiftly to support milk producers, our first requirement being the announcement of specific and long-awaited compensation measures. In the Speech from the Throne, the federal government committed once again to compensate us. But words are no longer enough. The trade agreements are in force now and their negative effects are being felt at the farm. Canada conceded almost 8.4% of milk production and processing in the last three agreements. As a result, nearly 800 million litres of milk will no longer be produced by local dairy farmers, or the equivalent of the annual output of 1,200 average size dairy farms in Quebec. Producers need clear proof that the government supports its agricultural sector. This is essential in order to maintain the economic vitality of our regions and to ensure high-quality local food production. We will continue to apply pressure until the money is paid out. The government must also act to adequately protect supply management in future trade agreements. Milk producers have given up enough.
This unforeseen virus can destabilize even the most resilient among us. It is not easy to remain confident in the face of the unknown. However, although we are not able to control the unpredictable, we can take steps to deal with it, and that is exactly what we are striving to do. In cooperation with the various players in the dairy industry, we have devoted significant efforts to implement a range of measures.
There are more challenges on the horizon, and anxiety is almost inevitable under such circumstances. Milk producers have always had to deal with multiple sources of stress, such as weather risks and the trade agreements. However, income fluctuations caused by COVID-19, global market conditions, uncertainties linked to compensation payments and COVID-induced isolation are additional sources of stress for all of us. These multiple concerns can be causes of anxiety and even distress among some producers. Therefore, we encourage you to be attentive and empathetic towards your peers and support one another. In challenging times, it can be difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel and to think logically and identify solutions. If this is your experience, please do not be afraid to speak up and to seek help. Several specialized resources are available to you, including the organization Au cœur des familles agricoles (At the heart of farm families). Every day their rural health care workers support producers who are experiencing difficult and stressful situations.
In the past, milk producers have always demonstrated their ability to weather challenges and turmoil. And we will do so again this time. Together, with resilience and solidarity, we will win the battles and achieve our objectives.
Daniel Gobeil, presidentTélécharger l’éditorial du président