Dairy farmers across Wisconsin are dumping their milk into drains and other outlets rather than sending it to market as milk prices continue to tumble during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
While many grocers are limiting the amount of milk individual consumers can buy, the dairy industry is reeling from decreased demand due to the widespread closures of restaurants and other food service buyers — leading dairy cooperatives to ask farmers to discard fresh milk in an effort to prop up prices.
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“We never thought this would happen,” dairy farmer Ryan Elbe told the Detroit Free Press. “Everybody’s rushing to the grocery store to get food, and we have food that’s literally being dumped down the drain.”
Earlier this week, roughly 115 large Wisconsin dairy operations ditched their products, according to WISC-TV, and Elbe’s was one of them.
Elbe’s Golden E Dairy began dumping its 25,000 gallons of fresh milk each day into a wastewater lagoon after the cooperative it belongs to, Dairy Farmers of America, asked them to do so. One reason for the dumping is that processing plants owned by co-ops are already at capacity with perishable milk, or have also closed since the outbreak began.
Milk prices initially rose in February as COVID-19 began to spread and consumers made a run on supermarkets, but as schools, hotels, and other buyers closed due to Americans sheltering-in-place, there was soon an oversupply and prices dropped to unprofitable levels for producers.
Bob Schwandt, a dairy farmer in Juneau, was recently warned by his co-op, Foremost Farms-USA, that members should prepare for dumping their milk, too. “It is a sad situation,” Schwandt told WKOW-TV. “There [are] a lot of people going hungry who could use these products.”
Dairy trade associations and co-ops are pressing the USDA to purchase surplus milk in order to keep Americans fed while keeping dairy farmers in business.
“We have asked the government to step in and buy dairy products to give to feeding programs and give to school lunch programs,” Cheese Makers Association Executive Director John Umhoefer told WTMU-TV. “So we can get people fed and get money back to that diary farmer.”
Why farmers are being told to dump milk, even with some store shelves empty