Dairy farmers warn of COVID-19 food crisis

Farms could be forced to close as commercial demand and milk prices fall drastically
Posted at 6:12 PM, Apr 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-18 15:56:17-04

CATTARAUGUS COUNTY, N.Y. (WKBW) — The dairy industry and the National Milk Producers Federation are calling on Congress and the USDA to take immediate actions to protect dairy farms that are being hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

When schools, restaurants, and hospitality operations shut down, the commercial demand for dairy products evaporated which is forcing farmers to dump their products that were meant for the now-closed businesses and organizations.

"Let's face it, you and I are not going to the store to buy a 5-gallon pail of yogurt," said Dustin Bliss, a Cattaraugus County Dairy farmer.

It also means dairy farmers have lost an important source of revenue.

Farmers want food processors and the government to make quick changes to the food supply chain so products once destined for hotels and restaurants can be re-directed to local supermarkets and nutrition programs (such as SNAP).

The financial outlook was good for dairy farmers as 2020 started. After facing 5-years of historically low prices, it appeared farmers might turn a profit this year - until the pandemic.

Now the futures price of milk appears to be around $11/hundredweight for May 2020. It costs farmers, like Dustin Bliss, around $17 to produce that much milk, which means dairy farmers will be losing $5 for every hundred pounds of milk they produce.

"It is very unsettling and I just put my faith in God that he will help us find a way to get through this," added Bliss, who has a wife, young children, and 500 cows to milk daily.

A big concern is the coronavirus-affected milk prices will force many dairy farms to close down.

"If a bunch of dairy farmers stopped producing milk in WNY, you could see food shortages in the stores within a couple of days. If you want to see widespread panic and hysteria, that would be the case," explained Bliss.

As part of the recently approved federal "CARES ACT" (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act), $9.5 billion was targeted as Emergency Federal Farm Aid.

Congressman Tom Reed's (R-NY23) office issued the following statement:
"We are speaking with our farmers consistently and talking to them about resources available through Small Business Administration and Treasury. We also need to get this funding released from USDA, that is fair to our farmers who are facing this uncertainty in their markets."

U.S Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) is also calling on the USDA to speed up the allocation of the CARES Act emergency money to the 33,438 farms in NYS.

“New York’s farmers and the New York agricultural industry is the lifeblood of the nation,” said Senator Schumer. “In good times, New York farmers work long hours on tight margins but in the midst of a global pandemic, they are losing revenue streams, suffering huge financial losses and being forced to discard their products during a time when we need a reliable food supply. I fought to make $9.5 billion accessible to help them out during this crisis, and it is imperative that we immediately put those dollars to use. I will not rest until New York farmers have the resources they need to help Americans get food on the table.”