Wisconsin dairy groups are calling on the federal government to aid farmers who are being asked to dump their milk in light of decreased demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.
They’re asking United States Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to leverage billions of dollars to buy dairy commodities from the recently passed coronavirus aid package, known as the CARES Act.
“The CARES Act directs $14 billion to the Commodity Credit Corporation, $9.5 billion to a dedicated disaster relief fund for agriculture, $25 billion for SNAP programs, and $450 million to support food banks serving the food insecure,” they wrote in a letter Wednesday. “This bill enables unprecedented support for farmers and unprecedented commodity purchases, and we need USDA to bring these forms of aid to bear immediately.”
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John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, said the cheese industry has lost a big share of its largest market. That market includes schools and restaurants now shuttered to the public.
“We have seen sales decline after 9/11. We’ve seen sales decline when there was the banking crisis in 2009, but we’re looking at over half the restaurants in the United States are either closed or operating at a reduced level,” said Umhoefer. “That has never happened before.”
He said they’d like the U.S. Department of Agriculture to buy nonfat dry milk, butter and several cheese styles to aid farmers. Groups are also asking the agency to find ways to make dairy farmers whole who are forced to dump milk or receive lower payments.
Gordon Speirs, who owns Shiloh Dairy in Brillion, said his 4,500-head dairy farm hasn’t had to dump milk, but he said they’ve lost 25 percent of their income due to market instability.
“The pain, I believe, should be shared throughout the entire dairy industry,” said Speirs. “Again, we don’t want to be picking winners and losers from one area or the other.”
Tim Trotter, executive director of the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association, said the government could buy food to help the growing number of people who are now unemployed.
“We really believe some of the dairy products that we have in storage could play a vital role in that and also help the nation’s farmers,”
The number of farms or amount of milk that’s been dumped in Wisconsin so far remains unclear, according to a spokesperson with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The agency is encouraging farmers to document any milk disposal and report the loss to the Wisconsin Farm Center. One farm reported it’s dumping thousands of gallons of milk each day right now.
A spokesperson with the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Thursday that the agency is monitoring commodity markets during the national emergency: “The U.S. food supply chain remains safe and secure and we are committed to ensuring America’s farmers, ranchers, and producers get through this pandemic. We are swiftly evaluating the authorities granted under the CARES Act and will leverage our programs to alleviate disruption as necessary.”
Wisconsin produced more than 30 billion pounds of milk last year, according to national agriculture statistics. The state has seen growing production despite the loss of more than 800 farms last year. The USDA last announced plans to purchase $50 million worth of milk last year for food and nutrition programs.
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