Have you been to the grocery store lately only to find many of the shelves and coolers picked over? Maybe you went in for a loaf of bread or a couple gallons of milk, but had a hard time finding either.
Every week, my grocery list has a few staples, one of which is milk. And every week when I go to the grocery store, I am blessed with coolers filled with of milk in different flavors, sizes, brands, etc. That was up until COVID-19 started making the headlines.
Lately, I go to the store and I see a more limited selection of many items, including milk. My milk choice is pretty standard, a gallon or two of 2% white milk, so I’m usually able to find what I’m looking for. I am sure I’m not alone in the alarm I felt when I started noticing signs asking patrons to limit the quantities of milk they were purchasing. Some went so far as to specify the number of gallons allowed.
I then started seeing stories of dairy farmers being asked, by their creamery, to dispose of their milk. This is good quality milk that is literally being dumped down the drain.
This all started to get very confusing, very fast.
Turns out that with more and more states encouraging residents to stay at home and limiting dining options, dairy products aren’t moving through the supply chain like normal.
Almost overnight, the large food service sector demand for cheese dropped dramatically, while the demand for milk skyrocketed. This led to some complications in getting the right products made in the right quantities in a relatively short amount of time.
To put this into perspective, the Wisconsin Cheesemakers say that 50 percent of cheese produced in the U.S. goes directly to food service or to companies that prepare cheese products for food service. With restaurants, schools and sports arenas closing or offering limited options, this has put a strain on dairy processing.
Wisconsin is known for cheese and we have a lot of creameries that buy milk to make cheese. It is nearly impossible to quickly turn a cheese making plant into one that bottles milk. You can see where this leads to some strain on the supply chain.
Dairy industry representatives, including Farm Bureau, have been very vocal about asking stores to remove dairy product limits because the supply chain backlog is a temporary challenge. Dairy supporters on the local, state and national level are stepping up and talking about solutions, asking for action and encouraging everyone to chip in.
The cows are still making milk and dairy farmers are working every day to bring that milk to our grocery stores and ultimately the dinner table.
Any shortages you see will only be temporary. The quick swing in consumers’ dairy product preference will continue to be a challenge, but there will always be more milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products made daily.
While it can be frustrating to go to the store and not have the same selection we’re used to seeing, farmers are equally frustrated that there is no market for some of the best quality milk in the world and that overall market prices are fluctuating dramatically.
So what can you do to help? Easy, buy more dairy products. Maybe you buy an extra gallon of milk or make a homemade pizza loaded with cheese.
Maybe you can make a monetary donation to your local food pantry specifically ear marked to purchase dairy products.
Just as our farmers need our support, our community members who have lost their jobs need it as well. More people are relying on food pantries, so even the smallest donation can make an impact.
I have heard of some heartwarming stories of individuals, groups and local businesses stepping up to donate cheese curds, milk or other dairy products to a local food pantry. This is a win-win-win for farmers, local businesses and members of the community who rely on the food pantries.
So as you find yourself at the grocery store, listening to the news or browsing social media wondering why the milk case isn’t as full as normal, remember our dairy farmers, creameries and transportation workers who are working hard to help us through these challenging times.
Join me in raising a cold glass of fresh, Wisconsin milk as you gather around the dinner table to show your appreciation for our hardworking farmers.
Sarah Hetke serves as WFBF’s director of communications. She is passionate about helping farmers share their stories and connecting consumers with those to grow and raise the food they eat.
Scott M says
Farm Bureau … Enough telling us about how you’re “being vocal”. Put your money where your mouth is and do something besides patting yourself on the back.
Rita McKimmy says
I strongly agree with Rodney Schulze in that the farmers should be paid for their milk if they have to dump it. His suggestion to bottle (or bag) the milk and get it into the supply chain is a very good one. This situation is going to force many farmers out of their livelihood. I recall my Dad having to dump milk back in the early 60s, but only because the milk truck couldn’t make it down our mile-long (yes, really) driveway due to snow. There’s also “making cheese at home” kits/ supplies that would encourage people to buy more milk to make their own cheese.
As John Kennedy might have said, “Ask not what the farmer can do for you, but what you can do for your local farmers.” I am willing to help if someone has a great idea. Thank you to all farmers.
I have heard that some milk plants are not only asking farmers to dump milk, but they have cut the price they are paying the farmers. The milk prices in the stores have almost doubled in the last week. What part of the equation am I missing? It seems like the farmers and the consumers are taking the hit. Or is this another method being used to push more small farms out of business?
It’s hard to buy more dairy when the stores pit a limit of 1 on each dairy item..
I am in AZ 3 weeks ago went to 3 grocery stores before I found a gal. of milk. Last week no butter or cottage cheese, but did find milk. What happens in a normal year in May when school is left out, have never been without dairy products then!
Marjorie Evert says
Its SAD To see Farmers dumping Milk. Its nutritional value is the best for all of us. We eat a lot of Cheese, drink milk for breakfast & dinner!! The Farmers are VERY NEEDED AND We cant let them down. BLESSINGS To all the Farmers out there!! They need ALL THE SUPPORT WE CAN GIVE THEM!!
It is kind of hard to support them when shelves are empty, I am raising 2 Grandkids and we go through a lot of milk, cheese, pizzas, yogurt, I go once every 7-9 days for groceries and very disappointed when I can’t get what are basic on my list…
Patricia Borlen says
This is a great explanation. Thank you for taking the time to help people understand the circumstances.
I am dismayed to hear about farmers having to dump milk when so many of us need milk and either can’t find any in the stores, are limited in how many we purchase and the relatively high cost of dairy products (cheese, yogurt, e.t.c. ). Is there NO WAY we can change this? We’re need the products and the farmers have to eat and feed their families, too. People, rise up to change this. PLEASE!!!!
Rodney Schulze says
I would like to make a comment about the milk companies asking the farmer to dump their milk the farmers don’t get paid for this milk because of the Corona virus workers get laid off but they’ll get unemployment what is the phone number to he can sign up for unemployment if he’s got to dump some of his milk it isn’t right so they oughta be allowed to get paid for their milk and send it to the Melt plant and bottle milk Are Made cheese or yogurt all of it and put it on the government program for free giveaway why waste food metal almost hits like a sin