Beryl Ludwig (above)

Beryl Ludwig (above)

Dairy farms key to local economy

Milk producers take local politicians on a tour of their operations

Dairy producers want to ensure  politicians and the public understand the impact of the industry first-hand.

About 40 local politicians recently toured two dairy farms in Spallumcheen. The event was sponsored by the Kamloops Okanagan Dairy Association.

“We have three goals with this tour,” said Henry Bremer, KODA president.

“We wanted to give an opportunity for local politicians to meet people in agriculture and to see what a working farm looks like. We also wanted to show the economic importance of dairy farms to the area.”

The first stop was Riverbreeze Farm, owned and operated by Tom Boeve, his wife Jane and sons-in-law Ray Vanderhorst and Mike Boersma. The farm has 240 cows on 500 acres at two locations in Spallumcheen.

“I grew up on a dairy farm in the Fraser Valley and we farmed there until we moved here,” said Boeve.

“We started with milking 100 cows three years ago and the operation is running very well.”

Riverbreeze uses the latest technology with robotic milking and Boeve said he is grateful to the younger generation for the computer knowledge that is needed for modern farming.

The milk produced at the farm is bought by the B.C. Milk Board and processed in the Lower Mainland and distributed around the province.

Eighty-five per cent of milk produced by the 96 dairy farms in the region goes out of the area while rest stays here with small processors.

There are 529 dairy farms in the province, many owned by second generation dairy farmers.

“I would like to see more of all our food products stay local to keep the value here, provide jobs and be a sustainable part of food,” said Boeve.

“I think the government can play a role in helping us the way they helped the wine industry. What’s wine without cheese? It’s a matter of putting our heads together and making things happen.”

Boeve said farms and the general community need to be more connected and aware of the impact of farming to the North Okanagan economy.

For example, his farms alone puts a substantial amount into the local economy each year for everything from feed and equipment maintenance to veterinary services.

The farm tour covered a day in the life of a dairy farm.

The cows eat in a common area. When they are done, they pass through a gate which monitors their computerized collars.

They are then directed to the resting area or to the robotic milking stalls where they get a special grain treat while being milked.

The computer-guided robotic arm, aided by a camera, washes the cow’s udders and  attaches the milking machine. The computer keeps track of the milk production of each cow.

When the milking is finished, the cow goes back to the rest area. Cows are milked at all times of the day and night, usually about 2.6 times in 24 hours or more if needed.

Even with things being done automatically, there is still a need for human supervision to make sure the machinery and computers are working properly and the animals are well so the farmer’s work is never done.

Beryl Ludwig, an Enderby councillor, was on the tour, which also went to the Veldhuizen family farm.

“I grew up on a farm but this is very different. I think tours like this are a good idea and everyone needs to be more aware of the importance of agriculture,” she said.

People had a lot of questions and Boeve was happy to answer them.

“I’m glad we could host this tour. I’d like to find a way to do this for the general public sometime,” he said.

Bremer was pleased with the participation and interest in the tour.

“It was great to hear from Mountain View Electric and Shepherd’s Hardware on how they appreciate working with our local farmers and their families and how this helps their own businesses succeed,” he said.

“We really appreciated all those who came out to participate in our tour and the discussions after the tour.”

While the number of dairy farms in Canada is decreasing — from 29,358 in 1993 to 12,965 in 2010 — the number of dairy cattle and production keeps growing across the country.

Dairy farming  accounts for 12.5 per cent of the total of farm cash receipts, behind grain and livestock farming.

Canada is the world’s fourth largest agricultural exporter and sixth largest importer, accounting for a combined $63 billion in global trade.