Each year, 24.4 billion gallons of milk are produced in the United States; however, amid the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, dairy farmers have suffered major disruptions in their supply chain. Read on to learn more about how the milk supply chain normally operates, the problems dairy farms are facing, and how you can help.
How the Milk Supply Chain Usually Works
For dairy farmers, the milk supply chain is one that has been tried and true for generations. Did you know that milk is one of the highest regulated foods on the market? Raw milk produced on-farm by local dairy farmers is the beginning of the process that ends with milk and dairy foods in your store, school or local restaurant. On-farm raw milk is picked up almost every day by a refrigerated truck and taken to a processing plant. Each type of dairy food, whether it be fluid milk, butter, cheese, or sour cream, has its own specific processing plant, and these plants only have the capability to process and produce the specific dairy product that their equipment is designed for and no other.
Grocery stores, schools, restaurants, and food service request orders for dairy foods from the processing plants, and the plants then work with the dairy farmer cooperative or milk marketers to place orders for raw milk to be delivered to the plant. Because raw milk is perishable, it has to be processed within 48 hours. Depending on the type of dairy product, it is then pasteurized, homogenized, and/or processed before being delivered to a store, school, or restaurant.
Disruptions in the Milk Supply Chain
As you might imagine, the Coronavirus crisis has had quite a negative impact on the dairy industry. When the pandemic hit, it caused restaurants, schools, and many other food services to close and food exports to slow dramatically or stop completely. At the same time, people began to panic-buy milk, cheese, butter, and other dairy foods. The rush on these foods pushed grocery stores to place limits on how much milk each consumer could purchase. Additionally, all of this began around the same time as the “spring flush” (the annual occurrence in which dairy cows naturally produce more milk than any other time of the year).
With a surplus of milk and a clear demand for it, you may wonder how the supply chain came to suffer disruptions. One third of milk and dairy foods go to food service such as schools, restaurants and food banks, while two thirds go directly to retail such as grocery stores. With much of the food service industry and schools being closed, the supply chain needed to pivot on how milk is being processed and packaged. That takes time and a significant shift in logistics. Additionally, plants want to ensure the safety of their employees, which has caused some
disruptions in the work force, and vital workers such as milk truck drivers, product drivers, and packaging workers are in short supply due to shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders.
All of these forces are converging together in “a perfect storm” with the result being no place for the raw milk produced on-farm to go, thus leaving farmers with no choice but to dump their milk as they wait for the supply chain to catch-up to the changing and increased demand.
How You Can Help
So many dedicated dairy farm families make up the Georgia dairy industry. Just as they have supported and nourished your family and community with safe, wholesome milk, you have the ability to support them during their time of need.
Here are some ways you can help:
- Continue to purchase milk and dairy foods.
- Consider purchasing extra milk and dairy foods and donating them to your local food bank or pantry, or to a neighbor in need.
- If your local grocery store is limiting milk purchases, ask to speak to the dairy case manager or contact our team.
- Show support for dairy farmers on social media by sharing the information they are creating to help spread the word.
- Call your local representatives and insist that they help dairy farmers during this tough time.