Dairy farmers are being hit hard as milk prices crash because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The closure of restaurants, schools, and workplaces across the country closing.
Farmers across the nation have dumped out a so far estimated 43 million gallons of milk in feces lagoons, fields, drains and even into animal feeds.
Some milk is even spoiling while in the trucks or at the processing plants and being discarded there instead.
That amount of dumped milk is enough to fill over 66 Olympic size swimming pools. That’s the most milk lost in at least the last 16 years.
Even at-home consumption of the bovine mammary fluids is taking a hit as consumers shy away from animal products that caused the pandemic but also because supply chains are strained at grocery stores from coast to coast.
“You can’t shut down cows. You can’t turn them off like a faucet,” Zoey Nelson, 27, a sixth-generation dairy farmer in Waupaca, Wisconsin, told NBC News.
“Just to see it literally going down the drain — it’s devastating.”
The Center for Dairy Excellence called the effect of the coronavirus on the industry “unprecedented in terms of its magnitude, its reach, and its complications.”
Grocery stores across the country have set purchase limits for certain products including milk in an effort to prevent panic shopping.
This, combined with the decrease in foodservice demand where dairy products are usually consumed at restaurants or schools, has had a significant impact.
“We’re seeing a demand decrease of approximately 12 to 15 percent across the entire United States,” Jennifer Huson of the Dairy Farmers of America said on a dairy industry call this week, and those demand changes are resulting in a lot of uncertainty.
Unlike many other agricultural commodities, milk is perishable and cannot be stored for a later date when the market demand and price rise.
Nelson, along with her sister Sydney Brooks and other family members, produce milk with an operation of 600 cows.
They sell all of their milk to a Wisconsin-based cheese company and find themselves among those forced to pour out their milk.
“On your next grocery trip, please consider buying more cheese, butter, milk, yogurt, ice cream, and cottage cheese to help support dairy farmers through Wisconsin and also the nation,” Brooks said.
Before the pandemic hit the United States, dairy farmers had already faced drops in prices by roughly 40 percent over the last six years, a dip that has come as a result of a glut of product in the American dairy market, the expansion of corporate farming and an increase in the consumer consumption of milk alternatives, such as soy, almond and oat milk.
“The fear of the unknown has crashed the price by almost one-third of where it was at [in the last month],” said Stephen Maddox, a Riverdale, California, dairyman who operates a farm with 3,000 cows.
He also employs 65 workers and said that he would have to temporarily shut down operations if one of the workers contracted the virus.
“That’s a little distressful, to say the least,” he said. “The thing about the dairy industry or the vegetable industry is that you have a perishable commodity that you’ve got to harvest every day, and you got to do something with it.”
President Donald Trump, in a tweet Thursday, suggested that he told Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to “expedite help to our farmers, especially to the smaller farmers who are hurting right now.”
More than 3,000 dairy farms closed in 2019, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s annual report.
“We fear that we will be losing more dairy farms without nearby assistance in the coming year,” said Dan Basse, the president of AgResource who also maintains an Ohio dairy farm. “They’re looking at substantial losses today which is why the dairy farmer — after years of struggles — is so upside down in terms of the balance sheet.”
Dairy farmers had hoped 2020 would be the continuation of slight gains seen last year after initial agreements were made to incrementally increase the nation’s access to sell into the Canadian dairy market as part of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Prices for American dairy slightly grew last year.
“Like every struggle that has come to the farm, I think dairy will make it through it, but this has tested our supply chain like nothing else,” said Mike North, president of Commodity Risk Management, a leading agricultural risk management group.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said Friday that concerns about farmers and their futures are discussed every day in his office; the state is home to nearly 6,000 dairy farms.
“You’re pointing at a real problem and that is in the short term while the readjustment is taking place,” he told reporters on a call.
“The producers and the processors are used to one channel of demand and that channel has changed abruptly.”
In an effort to alleviate some of the uncertainty, Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding halted grocery stores’ ability to put a purchase limit on dairy products.
The dying dairy industry has been propped up with subsidies since WWII and it’s time to let it die especially in the face of a pandemic that came from the very speciesism and animal suffering as dairy.
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