Imagine this. You wake up one morning and head to work which happens to be at the end of your driveway in the barn on the farm that your great-grandfather bought generations ago. You walk into the barn and see some of your hard-working staff milking cows so you head to the barn office and plan your day ahead. Your phone rings. It’s your milk processor where your milk is delivered every single day. They tell you that they won’t be coming to pick up your milk today.
You think to yourself, “What do you mean my milk isn’t going to get picked up today? The store shelves have been empty and limitations have been placed on dairy purchases. People want dairy products.” Shipping milk from the farm to the processor is the source of income on a dairy farm and today it’s just not going to happen. Legally milk can only be stored on our farm for two days so storing it isn’t an option. So, today, we have to dump 9,000 gallons of milk down the drain.
You might be imagining this, but some farmers are living this. It’s their reality right now and the future is full of uncertainty.
We wanted to break this down a little bit and explain some reasons why this is happening and why you might see this on the news or your social media feeds. Now by no means are we experts because every farm and every processor is different but we can tell you what we do know and how it correlates to this current reality that some farmers are facing.
The reality is this: A few weeks ago when this global pandemic of COVID-19 came to the forefront in the United States, people began to panic purchase items, including milk. The shelves quickly became empty but trust me, it wasn’t a supply issue. Dairy farms were continuing to produce milk every day. The challenge was the distribution and getting that milk to the store quicker. So all Americans bought up the dairy products in the store which resulted in stores placing purchasing limits on the products. But remember, cows are still producing the same amount of milk each day. Fast forward to today when the distribution channels have caught up, Americans have panic bought all of the milk and now the demand has leveled off. This results in a surplus of raw product with nowhere to go because the shelves are now full and people are staying home, longer.
Add to the retail store situation, the fact that restaurants and schools have closed and stay-at-home restrictions are being enforced and you continue to see a sudden decrease in demand. Think about it. The food and milk that are served in all of the New York City restaurants that are now closed has to come from somewhere. So the farms supplying those products now don’t have a home for their milk and other food products.
Not only have we lost a huge domestic market but our international export market has been decreased and been negatively impacted because of the introduction and spread of COVID-19. As this global pandemic has increased, not only have we lost a huge domestic market with schools and restaurants but we’ve also lost a big component of our export market. The demand has now leveled off and the raw milk has nowhere to go which means farmers are forced to dump their milk and wonder what the future holds for them.
So the question remains, what can you do to help?
- Buy more dairy. Fill each meal with glasses of milk, extra cheese, ice cream on the side and remember that butter is better. We aren’t suggesting to make panic purchases, but know that as long as there are dairy farms in business, there will be milk on the shelf.
- Make a donation. In a time where everyone is relying on different avenues to get food to their table, work with your local food bank or food pantry to determine if there’s an opportunity to make donations for them to purchase milk for people who might not have gotten it otherwise.
- Trust us. Trust your local dairy farmers. And I mean the big farms and the small farms. We are doing what we love every day and sometimes it comes at a cost – of seeing our pay check dumped down the drain. So trust us and what we do on our farms.
When this pandemic subsides and we all figure out what our new normal looks like, there is one thing we hope changes – that the passion and hard work of dairy farmers doesn’t go unnoticed. The thought of losing multi-generational dairy farms throughout rural America is devastating but it’s the reality that we’re all facing so today and every day ahead – ask us questions, trust us, and perhaps you should buy a few extra pizzas with extra cheese for all of your neighbors. And don’t forget the milk.