Canadian Dairy Commission
Symbol of the Government of Canada

The Industry

Canada's dairy sector is a significant and growing part of the Canadian agriculture and agri-food economy. Composed of federal and provincial bodies, national organizations, cooperatives and private companies, the dairy industry works to supply Canadians with a wide range of high quality dairy products.

Quick Facts

  • Canada's dairy sector functions under a supply management system based on planned domestic production, administered pricing and dairy product import controls.
  • The Canadian Dairy Commission supports the industry by implementing national policies for milk production, by assessing changes in demand for milk and dairy products, and by coordinating the pooling of milk revenues and the markets among milk producers of different provinces.
  • The Canadian dairy industry operates on a "dairy year" basis which runs from August 1 to July 31 of the following year.
  • As key contributor to the Canadian economy in 2016, the dairy industry ranked third behind grains and oil seeds and red meats, generating $6.17 billion in net farm receipts.
  • There are two markets for milk in Canada. The fluid market (table milk and fresh cream) accounts for 28.9% of milk production or 97.8 million kg of butterfat. The industrial market (manufactured products such as butter, cheese, yogurt and ice cream) accounts for the remaining 71.1% of production or 240.2 million kg of butterfat.
  • In 2016, dairy products shipped from approximately 471 dairy processing plants (270 of which are federally-inspected) were valued at $17.7 billion, accounting for 15.8% of all processing sales in the food and beverage industry in Canada.
  • In 2016, approximately 22,904 workers were employed in the dairy processing sector.
  • About 82.2% of Canada's dairy farms are in Ontario and Quebec, 12.3% in the Western provinces, and 5.4% in the Atlantic provinces.
  • In 2016, there were approximately 959,600 dairy cows in Canada on 11,280 dairy farms, delivering 344.53 million kg of butterfat.
  • The average Canadian dairy farm has 85 cows.
  • In 2016, cows enrolled on official milk recording programs produced on average 10,292 kg of milk per lactation (305 days) with an average content of 3.95% fat and 3.25% protein.
  • The main breeds of dairy cows are: Holstein (comprising more than 93% of Canadian dairy herds), Ayrshire, Jersey, Brown Swiss, Canadienne, Guernsey, and Milking Shorthorn.
  • The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for establishing dairy product standards and grades, conducting dairy plant inspections, and regulating packaging and labeling requirements. The CFIA is also responsible for animal health programs and the monitoring of product safety.
  • Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's mandate includes writing dairy policy, conducting research, assisting market development and rural development, as well as supporting livestock improvement.

Research

  • The industry has excellent research and development capabilities. Joint ventures between processors, universities and federal and provincial research stations such as the Food Research and Development Centre at Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, are common. Most of this research is directed towards product development activities and improvement of processing techniques.
  • At the production level, the Canadian dairy sector has impressive research facilities (governments, universities, private sector) that work to maintain and improve the long-term competitiveness of the sector through the development and transfer of innovative technologies. The Dairy and Swine Research and Development Centre in Sherbrooke, Quebec, is another national research centre that is involved in the development and transfer of innovative technologies.
  • The Canadian dairy sector has developed a cattle population considered among the highest level of genetic quality in the world, mostly because of the strict standards for dairy production et genetic evaluation in place since 1905.
  • The Dairy Research Cluster is an initiative on behalf of the CDC, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and Dairy Farmers of Canada to stimulate AAFC’s Growing Forward campaign. In 2013, the organizations had collectively raised $18.8 million in funding over 5 years to conduct research on the impacts of dairy on human nutrition and health.
For more dairy statistics, please visit the Canadian Dairy Information Centre.