Brief Editorial by Farm Director, Pam Jahnke
You have no idea how difficult bringing this news to our loyal farm audience is – especially for me, a dairy kid and life long lover of Wisconsin agriculture. Since Covid-19 has changed all our world’s, I’ve been asked to try and connect the dots on this latest destruction of Wisconsin’s dairy industry and why it’s happening.
I am not an expert, and we’re diligently working to gather all the facts as I type this – but I’ll give the basics.
Wisconsin’s dairy industry was just looking forward to a slight recovery when Covid-19 hit the world in January. Here’s what it did to agriculture almost immediately.
Schools closed. The number one market for fluid milk in the United States is the school lunch program. Although schools are still trying to make that milk available to students, the volume is down considerably. That immediately impacted where fluid milk could go.
Covid-19 impacts farm, agribusiness and food processing workers too. Even with social distancing, some Wisconsin food processors have been impacted be the lack of available workers to keep all production lines fully rolling. That means generating fewer products and using less raw dairy.
You cannot “shut off” a milk cow. At this time of the year, Wisconsin traditionally sees an uptick in the amount of milk produced. We call it “spring flush” because many calves are born in spring, and milk production on farms escalates. Experts didn’t believe the spring flush would be as great this year because of a fairly mild winter – but they didn’t expect Covid-19 at all.
Why is milk still being limited at grocery stores? That’s a judgement call by every food retailer out there. The same judgement they make about pricing of fluid milk or any other dairy product. There is very little correlation to what farms are paid for their milk. Obviously there is fluid milk available, but if it can’t be processed – they have concerns about still having product available for their customers.
What else can be done with this milk? Well today Wisconsin’s Acting Ag Secretary, Randy Romanski, is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to immediately begin purchasing dairy products that can be funneled to food banks and other government assistance programs across the United States. I also know there are other states making the same plea. Wisconsin dairies work cooperatively to “share” milk supplies when they can and channel more towards cheese, butter, yogurt and other dairy products. Right now between the employee impact of Covid-19, distance and demand – processors feel this is their only option on the short-term.
How long will it last? Nobody knows. How long will Covid-19 impact your life? Nobody knows.
What can I do as a consumer to try and help? There’s a few things.
1) Of course, buy more dairy as you can. People have suggested using fluid milk to make your own butter if you don’t routinely drink much milk. That’s possible, but generally the fluid milk you would drink doesn’t contain enough cream to really make butter. You can also try making ice cream. The Wisconsin Ag In The Classroom has directions on how you and your kids can try this together on a smaller scale. Remember, you can successfully buy and freeze cheese and butter too.
2) Donate milk to your local food bank. Here’s one link that can get that done. Because of Covid-19, you cannot just bring milk to the food bank. Financial donations are the only real way to go for now. This particular link allows only for the purchase of Wisconsin milk/dairy.
3) Write your state and federal officials an email and let them know your opinions. Don’t stop there – communicate directly with the governor, the U.S. Department of Agriculture in DC, and even the president. Yes, Covid-19 is terrible and they are busy trying to manage through that – but this situation may literally mean the death of a dairy operation.
Federal Information –
http://Ask USA.gov a Question
Call 1-844-USAGOV1 (1-844-872-4681)
Governor: Tony Evers.
Email: [email protected]
Phone Number: 1-608-266-0382
4) And maybe most importantly – express your support for Wisconsin dairy farms. Big or small, this is impacting them all. If you know a dairy farmer or their family – call them, email them, send them a message of hope. People are being encouraged to show support throughout social media with: #FarmNeighborsCare
5) It may not be fashionable, but pray. In whatever form you want. Pray that Covid-19 dissipates. Pray that life begins to return to a somewhat normal patterns. Pray that this milk dumping situation is just a temporary story. Pray for all the farm families that are trying to make their way through this.
Again – I’m no expert. But I am dedicated to doing whatever I can to try and share the stories of Wisconsin farm families with those of you that may not know as much about the industry that’s still the backbone of this state.