Dairy farmers are dumping thousands of gallons of milk due to Coronavirus

Dairy farmers across the U.S. are feeling the negative effects from the Coronavirus pandemic — and many have been forced to dump perfectly good milk down the drain.

While initial panic buying during the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic resulted in increased demand for milk and dairy products, the closure of schools, restaurants, and other businesses has caused problems with supply and demand that has forced farmers to start dumping milk.

Dairy Farmers of America explained the circumstances that led to the dumping in an April 3 statement:

While there was an initial increase in demand at grocery stores as consumers stocked up on many products, like dairy, the retail demand has now dropped. So you should see milk more readily available at the grocery stores in the coming weeks. 

However, also during this time, foodservice sales rapidly declined due to schools and restaurants closing. Market analysts estimate that around half of butter and cheese consumed is through restaurants. 

These sudden changes, along with other uncertainties, have forced some dairy manufacturers to cut or change production schedules or build inventories. With plants operating at capacity or on a reduced schedule, there is more milk right now than space available in processing plants. 

Before milk can be sold in stores or turned into product, it must undergo processing. This, in combination with the perishable nature of our product, has resulted in a need to dispose of raw milk on farms, as a last resort. 

At this time, our family farm-owners continue to receive payment even if they have to dispose of their milk.

Indiana-based Obert Farms, Inc. shared a recent Facebook post that pointed out that “many grocery stores are currently limiting the amount of milk a consumer can purchase, which leaves all the supply, but no demand to keep processing our products.” Obert Farms said that they’d dumped 30,000 pounds of milk in just a couple of days.

The COVID-19 crisis is shaking many businesses, and the dairy industry is no exception. School and restaurant closures…

Posted by Obert Farms, Inc. on Saturday, April 4, 2020

Social media has been bombarded with photos and videos of farmers dumping milk as groups try to raise public awareness about the effect that the pandemic has had on their industry.

Milk Dumping

For years, the milk truck pulling into our farm drive has been something we can set our clock by, just like the sun rising or the church bells ringing. Today was different, though. The milk truck didn't come for it's scheduled pickup. For the first day ever in 44 years, our milk hauler didn't run their regular route, taking milk from farms to the dairy processing plant. We've watched on social media for days as dairy farms across the country have dumped perfectly good milk literally down the drain. We secretly wondered if that directive would make it to Ohio. We never imagined it would come to our farm, though… until yesterday. First, we heard a rumor from a neighbor who sends their milk to the same plant as we do. Then, later in the day, it was confirmed with a call to us: every producer who sends their milk to our plant is dumping one pick up (one to two days' production, depending on the farm) down the drain, ourselves included. The milk plant is full. It cannot hold another drop. Yesterday delivery trucks, who take the bottled milk to the grocery stores, returned back to the plant with full jugs. Stores didn't have any more room on their shelves to accept delivery. This created a backlog at the milk plant, who had no choice but to leave perfectly good milk at the dairy farms. On a normal day, the dairy industry is highly volatile. The last several years have been tense. Rising input costs and diminished returns have strained even the most financially sound dairy farms. When you add in a world-changing event like COVID-19, all bets are off the table. Since the beginning of March, milk prices have plummeted. Exports are down, and domestic markets are unstable. As if that's not enough, when you add grocery store limits and closed restaurants to the mix, an already complex system becomes even more complicated. Transportation is expensive, so it's not always conducive to move milk surpluses in one part of the country to another area that might be deficient. Perhaps the most worrysome effect of this milk-dumping is the mental and emotional strain it puts on farmers. It took over an hour for our milk tank to drain today. That's a long time to watch the time, money, and care you've invested into your cows go to waste. Our hearts sank as 31,000 pounds, or over 3,600 gallons, dumped down the drain and flowed into our manure lagoon. As dairy farmers across the country take turns disposing of a perfectly good product, it's safe to say the tears will fall as quickly as the milk drains. There are people going hungry in every community across the country. They don't know where their next meal will come from or what it will consist of. Certainly, some fresh milk would be welcomed in the food pantries that serve our neighbors. The next time you're at the grocery store, if there aren't posted limits, would you please pick up a couple extra gallons and drop off at a food pantry? It will help your neighbors, and hopefully it can have some good for some dairy farmers. Or, order a pizza with extra cheese and have it delivered to your local workers on the front line. Heaven knows, we would love to see some good come from a bleak situation. When you say your prayers tonight, add farmers to your list. They've weathered storms before, and God-willing, they'll weather this one too.*This video shows the milk getting dumped from the tank into the drain, which flows to a contained manure lagoon. There is another video in the comments of it dumping into the lagoon.

Posted by Hartschuh Dairy Farm on Friday, April 3, 2020
https://www.facebook.com/farmersheart/videos/213290246752467/