Dairy farmers are feeling the impact of COVID-19 as some grocery stores place limits on how much milk customers can buy and schools and restaurants close their doors.
Disruptions in the dairy product supply chain has led to frustrations among farmers and consumers as milk is being dumped with processing backed up. The surplus of milk is coming from the changing demands for dairy products.
This change in demand comes from the closings of schools and restaurants, which use dairy products to serve students and customers. Individual consumers are still buying milk in grocery stores, but some limits have been placed on buying milk as a response to people panic-buying items in light of COVID-19. Many areas grocery stores were sold out of essentials, like toilet paper and soap.
The Missouri Department of Agriculture and the State Milk Board have sent an open letter to grocery stores asking for a stop to those milk purchase limits, saying they’re unsupportive of dairy farmers. According to the letter, Missourian milk processors are filling every order they have received and have the ability to fill more. The Missouri dairy industry contributes up to $2 billion of the state’s gross domestic product, according to the letter.
The milk that would be sold to restaurants and schools is now being sold to grocery stores. Dairy farmers are being told to dump their milk because there is more milk than needed to stock shelves. Individual consumers’ demand for milk hasn’t increased enough to offset the loss in demand from restaurants and schools.
Paul Simon, the senior communications specialist for Schnuck Markets Inc., said their stores do not have any limitations on how much milk customers can buy. Walmart has had restrictions on certain goods in its stores, including on milk.
Norris Sloan, a dairy farmer in Mountain Grove, has suffered from having a surplus of milk.
“We personally have had to dump milk the last four days,” Sloan said. He said the four days of dumping is equivalent to about 2,000 gallons of milk going down the drain.
“It’s so frustrating to us as dairy farmers because at our local Walmart, they limit us to one gallon of milk. And the cheese shelves are empty,” Sloan said.
Sloan said the milk being thrown out now is going to affect all the dairy farmers in the same co-ops, since prices will be reduced to make up for what has been lost.
Sean Cornelius, who has been a dairy farmer his whole life and is highly involved in different aspects of the industry, said the pandemic has caused a lot of changes that have not been adjusted to yet.
“It takes a little time for all the logistics and supply chain to catch up to today’s demand,” Cornelius said. Cornelius said the surplus of milk is caused by lack of demand of processed dairy products, like cheese or powdered milk.
“It’s really hard to understand why milk is being dumped until you really dive into that supply chain,” Cornelius said. He said with changing demands of consumers now eating at home instead of schools or restaurants, processing is backed up while it adjusts.
Sonja Tuitele, director of communications for Aurora Organic Dairy, said their Missouri processing plant has experienced an increased demand for milk. Aurora Organic Dairy processes and bottles milk from farms in Colorado and Texas.
“Our milk plant in Columbia is working hard to build inventories so that we may continue to meet the demand of our customers,” Tuitele said.
“It’s a crazy situation that snuck up on us very fast,” Cornelius said.
The question he said all dairy farmers are wondering now, along with everyone else, is: “How long will this situation last?”