The past few days have been buzzing on social media about photos of large trucks dumping milk, which seems surprising as demand for groceries has skyrocketed in recent weeks as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. However, the pandemic has disrupted the dairy industry and is precisely why dairy farmers have to make such a drastic decision.
Experts say the biggest hit came from the closure of schools, restaurants and catering establishments, which are major consumers of milk and other related products such as butter or cheese. This left dairy processors behind, the link between the farm and the consumer, with a big problem. Processors take milk and process it into consumer-ready products or use it as an ingredient for other products.
Due to the closings, there are canceled orders and too much milk, leaving many simply unable to accept more from dairy farmers.
“Since most dairy products are perishable, dairy processors can only store a limited amount of product for which they have no copper,” said Kara O’Connor, the director of Wisconsin Farmers Union., in a blog post. “As soon as their storage is full, they start banning milk from the plant because they have nowhere to put the finished product.”
Many dairy farmers have even said their processors, including cooperatives and supermarket chains– call them and tell them to dump their milk or clear their herds.
Dairy Farmers of America, which consists of over 13,000 American farmers, said Reuters that it asked farmers in its organization to dump milk, but did not specify how much. Nonetheless, farmers who say they dumped their milk through Dairy Farmers of America receive provisional compensation for their milk.
But the organization, like other cooperatives, is not in the best financial shape and can only afford to pay its farmers this long for dumped milk, according to USA Today. Reuters reports that Land O’Lakes Inc., another cooperative, has also warned its members that they may have to dump milk.
And although consumer demand for milk in supermarkets booming, it is not easy for vendors who normally make restaurant bulk products to make the switch and create consumer items. For example it would simply cost millions of dollars to install the new equipment needed to switch from making vat cheese used in restaurants to making cheese wedges used by grocers, per Reuters.
This week, dairy groups that represent the Midwest wrote to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and asked that it provide immediate aid to farmers and speed up the purchase of additional dairy products amid “unprecedented distortions in supply and demand ” caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Congress allocated $ 9.5 billion for agricultural producers hit by the crisis below the CARES Act, include the $ 2.2 trillion dollar coronavirus emergency economic account.
“Direct aid to dairy farmers and a substantial purchase of dairy products by USDA can help keep our industry fiscally capable of functioning in its primary role of nutrition for the nation and the world,” the groups wrote.