Dairy farmers are suffering from pandemic-related kinks in the supply chain. Even as consumers face limits on how many dairy products they can buy at their local stores, farmers are dumping thousands of gallons of milk, which can also contaminate groundwater.
Dairy cooperatives have asked members to start dumping milk, and Wisconsin-based Foremost Farms USA even suggested that members cull their herds. The cooperatives will reimburse members for at least part of the cost of the milk. But that barely soothes farmers’ feelings as they watch hard work go down the drain.
Since restaurants, schools and other wholesale food buyers have temporarily closed, processing plants have lost customers for their milk, cheese and butter. The dairy export market has tanked, and trucking companies have trouble finding enough drivers to get fresh milk to stores. Texas-based dairy food manufacturer Dean Foods Co. is offering new drivers $1,000 sign-on bonuses if they have experience hauling dairy, according to Reuters.
As restaurant sales plummet, home cooking has soared. “About half of U.S. consumers’ food budget was spent on restaurants, and we’ve shut that spigot off,” said Matt Gould, editor at trade publication Dairy & Food Market Analyst. But dairy processing factories lack agility. Switching from manufacturing quantities of fast-food slices or bulk bags of shredded cheddar for commercial use to small bags for home use is too costly.
Dairy isn’t the only industry to face supply chain problems. But because milk is highly perishable and raw milk needs to be processed before drinking, farmers can’t just donate it to food banks for later use.
States expect farmers to follow certain guidelines to properly dispose of milk. In Ohio, “direct land application or transfer to on-site liquid manure storage structures” is allowed. Improper disposal of milk can contaminate groundwater. Milk has an even higher content of nutrients than manure, so dumping milk into bodies of water is even worse than discharging manure into it. Fish could be in danger if farmers fail to follow the proper protocols, and the smell of rotting milk won’t help lake recreation and tourism rebound when the coronavirus pandemic is finally over.
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