Consumers top of mind in new dairy program

Four years' worth of funding has been provided to Dairy Farmers of Manitoba to hire and train staff for ProAction program

It’s an initiative that will bring together on-farm food safety, sustainability, milk quality, biosecurity and more.

ProAction — a nationwide accreditation program for dairy producers — aims to consolidate a wide variety of best management practices together under one umbrella, something industry representatives believe will streamline auditing and inspection processes for farmers.

“We’re trying to incorporate all these different functions into one visit so that the auditors, these various inspectors, don’t have to come out multiple times in a year. It’s just easier for producers to have one thorough visit,” David Wiens told producers gathered in Steinbach for a district meeting of Dairy Farmers of Manitoba last week.

Manitoba is taking the extra step of incorporating already existing premise inspections with the audits required for ProAction, he said.

Responsibility for implementing the new program in the province will fall to Dairy Farmers of Manitoba, including on-farm premise inspections — something the province once handled.

Initial funding

David Wiens talking into a microphone

David Wiens speaks to producers during a Dairy Farmers of Manitoba meeting in Steinbach.
photo: Shannon VanRaes

Growing Forward 2 is providing the industry association with $525,000 over four years so that it can hire and train field service representatives, a necessary step towards being recognized under the ProAction initiative.

Wiens was quick to add that Dairy Farmers of Manitoba will also be subject to audits.

“The government has been doing it, but we are going to take on that role, and of course as an organization we’re going to be audited too to ensure that our auditors are doing a proper job,” he said.

What will happen after the four years of allotted funding comes to an end is unclear, but the chairman said Dairy Farmers of Manitoba is looking at ways to make the process more efficient.

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“It’s always a concern when costs are being added to the organization,” said Wiens. “But in terms of including the on-farm premise inspection with the ProAction initiative, that helps us to streamline as much as possible.”

That streamlining won’t affect the integrity of the audit, he added.

Reaction from producers at the meeting was largely muted — ProAction has been under development for some time. A resolution supporting it was passed by Dairy Farmers of Canada last August, although it was officially announced to the public last week.

“I think it’s a good idea, but I’d like to have some more details on how it will work,” said Ray Pelletier, who farms near La Broquerie.

Consumer focus

However, ProAction isn’t just aimed at producers. The new initiative is also aimed at consumers.

“It’s going to address, basically, the societal demands on dairy,” Wiens told producers. “We’re seeing more and more interest by our end consumers and certainly the retailers in what we’re doing on the farm… it’s basically our commitment to food safety, milk quality, the sustainability of our animals, our farms, the way in which they’re being managed and so on, and of course the biosecurity, traceability, and the environment as well.

“This is all about us showing our consumers that we hear them, we know their values, those are our values, and that we are going to be doing this on the farm, and here is evidence that these things are happening on the farm and it’s actually being audited,” he said.

Being able to prove to the consumer that best management practices are being followed will tie into the 100 per cent Canadian Dairy campaign as well, said the chairman.

Dairy Farmers of Canada is also one year into a review of its communication strategies and is working on a five-year promotion strategy that will include partnering with retailers and processors.

Having a comprehensive, national accreditation system will help dairy farmers market their milk and strengthen their marketing claims and strategies, said Wiens.

Other producers agreed.

“I think we should have done something like this a long time ago; it will be a very good program,” said Peter de Jong, who also farms near La Broquerie. “I think it will be positive for our consumers to know where and how the milk is made and where it comes from.”

Social media

He added that the popularity of social media, which continues to speed up the transmission of information through sites like Twitter and Facebook, makes being able to back up claims or dispute false information with facts more important than ever before.

“We want to be proactive, we want to do what we say we do, and show that we are doing it,” de Jong said.

Wiens noted that farmers are still highly regarded by the Canadian public and said maintaining and building that trust is a key goal of the ProAction initiative.

“It just comes down to how important it is for us to show consumers that our farms are sustainable and that we’re producing a high-quality, nutritious product,” he said. “And I think those are all things that are as important to us as they are to consumers.”

The first inspections under the ProAction umbrella will take place in Manitoba this October.

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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