Things are continuously changing by the hour in agriculture, so Randy Romanski, interim secretary for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), gave an update on how Wisconsin farmers and processors are fairing in the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the largest stories hitting headlines is the dumping of milk in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, it is not just a state issue. Romanski said they know it is happening in at least 18 states across the U.S., but DATCP does not know how prevalent it is in America’s Dairyland.
“We’ve actually encouraged people who are experiencing milk loss to document it and contact the farm center,” Romanski said. “We have not gotten calls from people to document that.”
He acknowledged that farmers may be reporting the amount of milk dumped to the co-op or company they sell their milk to, but said it is crucial for DATCP to collect that information.
“So that we can get a more accurate picture of what’s going on in a state, and this allows our agency to further advocate for the dairy industry,” Romanski said.
Calls to the farm center are confidential and would only be used to substantiate the toll on dairy farmers so they can more accurately make requests for the USDA to purchase surplus commodities, re-open the Dairy Margin Coverage Program (DMC) or find other solutions in the crisis.
Milk is being dumped because the demand shift from schools and restaurants had an impact on the supply of products, but there are efforts to redistribute those products from sale in food service to retail.
Romanski added they have been working with retailers to remove limits on dairy items in grocery stores and most have been receptive to removing those restrictions.
Regardless, the glut of milk forced many dairy farmers to scale back on their herds and, in some instances, flood sale barns with cull cattle. Sale barns in Lanesboro, Minn., Decorah, Iowa, and Marion, Wisc. canceled sales because of Coronavirus concerns and a flooded beef market. Romanski said it is not a common issue across Wisconsin.
“The movement of animals at auction is actually proceeding
okay,” Romanski said. “Equity Livestock indicated that they’re on a normal
schedule right now. That was good to hear because we know there’s been some
disruption and other states.”
The financial losses farmers are facing can be devastating, and that is why Romanski also wanted to address the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that is part of the CARES Act. Farmers can apply for the funding, but the government may quickly run out of money to give under PPP.
DATCP encouraged farmers who were eligible to review PPP and contact their lenders as quickly as possible, but there are still questions surrounding the program.
“We had heard that PPP is based n payroll and because some farms are sole proprietorship and the employees are a small number, it could conceivably yield smaller loans than what might be needed,” Romanski said.
DATCP is updating their website with FAQs on a daily basis and set up weekly conference calls with stakeholders.