The effects of the COVID-19 outbreak are being felt in every industry, including agriculture. Here at Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery it looks like business as usual with cheese production continuing and customers picking up their cheese orders curbside at our retail stores.
Behind the scenes it’s a very different story. Once again, it’s the farmer who is taking the brunt of the impact. You may have been hearing news of farmers and cooperatives dumping milk. Unfortunately, the disruptions in the supply chain means there is an overabundance of milk.
Schools, cafeterias, restaurants and other buyers that usually purchase large quantities of milk, cheese, butter and other dairy products are closed or are enduring a significant drop in sales. This has forced them to cancel their dairy orders leading to an oversupply of milk in the system. Since cows continue to need to be milked, that oversupply continues to grow exponentially. As a result, the farmers are also seeing milk prices plummet and the bottom falling out of the dairy market.
At Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery we’ve ramped up cheese production and all production facilities are currently working over capacity. As of this time, we have continued to accept the milk our patron farmers produce. However, we can see that soon this will be unsustainable.
Due to this emergency we have contacted our patron farm owners to stress the urgency of this situation. We’ve asked that they do what they can to reduce milk production. In addition, our cooperative’s board has created an emergency equity buyout program to help any farm that sees they will be unable to weather this storm an opportunity to sell their dairy herds while there is still some value in the market.
While there’s never a good time for a global pandemic, for the farmer this crisis is coming off several years of other challenges in agriculture. For our patron farmers, there was optimism that due to new trade deals and tariff reductions these past few years of historically low milk prices were about to rebound. Now this.
During this time of buy-local, don’t forget about America’s farmers. Many will sacrifice their livelihoods and family legacies for the greater good and to save the dairy farming industry. We must remember they are heroes, too. They are going to need your prayers and support during this unprecedented time.