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Canadian Dairy Farmers’ COVID-19 Response

Alignment with SDGs


Paula Dunlop Dairy Farmers of Canada, Ottawa • Canada


With the shutdown of several sectors of the economy and the sudden closure of many workplaces, the COVID-19 crisis hit millions of Canadians hard. Many faced unexpected job losses and financial difficulties. According to Statistics Canada, at the end of March 2020, 17% of Canadians1 reported that the pandemic had a major impact on their ability to fulfill their financial obligations or meet their essential needs such as grocery purchases.  

Thanks in part to the efforts of stakeholders in the dairy industry, the agri-food sector was designated essential by the Canadian government. This allowed our supply chain to remain open, ensuring all Canadians had access to local, safe and nutritious dairy products while respecting the constraints imposed by public health authorities. 

Despite the Canadian government’s best efforts to help workers and businesses through this challenging time, many struggled to gain access to quality and nutritious food. In the early days of the pandemic, some short-term supply chain disruptions in areas such as transportation and distribution also contributed to significant milk disposal, something that occurred in many other countries, as well. Dairy farmers in Canada adapted quickly by adjusting milk supply and increasing donations to food banks to ensure continued access to quality local food. 


The COVID-19 pandemic struck at a time when, due to seasonal fluctuations, milk production was near its peak. A sudden shift in consumption patterns caused an unexpected decline in overall demand, creating an imbalance between supply and demand. Given that production control is inherent to the system of Supply Management, dairy organizations quickly took action to manage surplus supply and limit production on the farm.

Moreover, the dairy industry put in place a special national donation program to help Canadian families in need through local food banks. The sector was pleased to be able to help reduce inequities and ensure Canadians families had continued access to nutritious dairy products, which are produced locally. 

In the early stage of the Covid-19 pandemic, all sectors were affected. The dairy sector adapted quickly. Dairying is a vibrant and adaptive sector which functions around the world despite cultural and geographical differences.


Dairy farmers have always believed that everyone should have access to affordable and nutritious foods, like dairy. We are extremely proud that during a time when many Canadians were facing financial hardship, our farmers collectively donated more than $10 million worth of dairy products to food banks to support our fellow citizens in need. This donation was over and above contributions made normally throughout the year. Nationally, a $1 million donation from Dairy Farmers of Canada was combined with federal government contributions to allow Food Banks Canada to purchase an additional $3 million in quality dairy products for distribution in communities right across Canada, including remote communities in northern Canada.

Financial support from dairy farmers’ organizations, such as DFC, buoyed local food banks throughout this difficult period. With the financial contributions to food banks, our most vulnerable populations were able to have access to nutritious food. Thousands of Canadian families benefited from that program.

+$10 million

donated of dairy products to food banks

$3 million

dairy products distributed to communities across Canada


Dairy farmers across Canada are proud of their flexibility and adaptability in response to the sudden effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to the coordination across the supply chain that is inherent under supply management, the industry adapted quickly to find appropriate solutions and implemented actions to minimize and eliminate any milk disposal. 

Supply management policy has demonstrated its relevance when it comes to the management of a crisis with direct impact on the supply chain and on the market.  In collaboration with processors, our farmers demonstrated solidarity, exemplified by record-high donations to food banks to help those facing financial hardships as a result of the pandemic. 


  1. Dairy Farmers of Canada. Annual Report 2019-20.  

  2. Dairy Farmers of Canada. Partnership with Food Banks Canada.

  3. Food Banks Canada. A Snapshot of Food Banks in Canada and the COVID-19 Crisis.  

  4. Turcotte, M. & Hango, D. Impact of economic consequences of COVID-19 on Canadians’ social concerns. Statistics Canada.