Additional drying capacity should be a top priority for Ontario’s dairy sector, according to recently retired Gay Lea Foods CEO Michael Barrett.
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“If we had another dryer, I would not be afraid to say we could sell everything that we put through that facility,” Barrett told attendees during his Feb. 22 keynote presentation at the annual Southwestern Ontario Dairy Symposium in Woodstock.
Delivering his first industry-focused speech since retiring at the end of 2022, Barrett said all facilities that make milk powder in Canada are operating at full capacity, including three that Gay Lea was involved in building while he was at the co-op’s helm.
“If there was one major catastrophe at a dryer in Canada, there would be huge consequences.”
Without naming names, Barrett expressed displeasure with Dalhousie University professor Sylvain Charlebois and recently emerged TikTok video creator Jerry Huigen, who went viral with his complaint about Dairy Farmers of Ontario quota restrictions leading him to dump 30,000 litres of milk. Barrett suggested the information led the general public to think people are being duped about milk prices in Canada.
Attempting to counter those viewpoints is one strategy to pursue, he said. But using all the available Canadian milk ingredients in an efficient and timely manner is the best way to ease the squeeze on profit margins in the dairy processing sector and potentially instil greater consumer trust. That would require more milk powder processing capacity.
“And I’m not talking about a 20-million litre (per year) plant here and a 30-million litre plant there,” Barrett said. “That’s not enough.”
He believes as many as four new drying facilities are needed that would process 300 to 500 million litres per year across Canada. Atlantic Canada is in the most dire need of expanded capacity, he added. Building four facilities would require a $2.5-billion investment, Barrett estimated, noting he thinks it would be worthwhile.
“I know that some people see dryers as old technology, but Gay Lea’s example has shown that’s not the case. They’re not old technology. They’re investing in your future.”