Coronavirus forces dairy farmers to dump milk meant for restaurants

About one-third of the state’s dairy products, mostly cheese, are sold in the food-service trade.

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Dairy farmers across the nation are being forced to pour portions of their milk supply down the drain after the coronavirus pandemic choked off demand from restaurants.

One of them, Ryan Elbe of Golden E Dairy Farm in West Bend, Wisconsin, is disposing of more than 25,000 gallons per day.

"We thought this would never happen,” Elbe told WISN-TV. "Everybody’s rushing to the grocery store to get food, and we have food that’s literally being dumped down the drain.”

Among the challenges is that restaurants and hotels buy in greater bulk than consumers at grocery stores, and even if some demand carries over due to families stocking up for extended periods of sheltering in place, supply chains can't be easily transformed to produce the smaller packages that the general public would buy, the Wall Street Journal reported.

DAIRY FARMERS FACING CRISIS AS MILK CONSUMPTION, PRICES DECLINE

In Wisconsin, about one-third of the state’s dairy products, mostly cheese, are sold in the food-service trade.

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“Thirty to forty percent of all milk produced is used to make products that go through restaurants and foodservice," Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin CEO Chad Vincent told Brownfield, an agricultural news outlet.

As a result, some of Wisconsin’s biggest farm groups, as well as government officials, are pleading with the government for help.

Groups including the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative and the Dairy Business Association, are urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use money from the federal coronavirus stimulus bill to buy large amounts of dry milk, butter and cheese that normally would go to restaurants and the food-service industry.

"Our dairy farmers were already struggling, and this pandemic puts them into even more of a crisis," U.S. Representative Ron Kind, a Wisconsin Democrat, wrote in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Milk prices had only recently returned to profitable levels after struggling for more than five years. About 820 Wisconsin dairy producers quit in 2019 alone, a rate of more than two per day.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.