As a dairy farmer, there’s nothing Bill Kerr loves more than seeing a kid drink a glass of milk.
But lately, his stomach goes sour as he watches his workers do what once was unthinkable and now is routine: dumping milk.
“We’re dumping milk right now that has no home,” he said. “Those milk trucks that you see on the road?
“We’re dumping 20 of those a day.”
Kerr is not the only one. Fellow West Valley dairy farmers Jen Millican of Stotz Dairy in Buckeye and Paul Rovey of Rovey Dairy in Glendale are also dumping milk.
The past few weeks have been especially painful for the dairy farms as restaurants and schools are closing to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. These closures created a problem of too much milk being produced with not enough places to send it to, causing farmers to dump the milk they can’t store.
Kerr, owner of Kerr Family Dairy in Buckeye, said stores in the West Valley have been limiting the number of gallons of milk consumers could buy.
“There’s no shortage of milk,” he said.
Millican is a manager at Stotz Dairy, a farm that was started in 1981 and has 22,000 cows.
Millican said the milk produced is distributed in two ways. Normally, 50% of milk production goes off to bottlers and manufacturers to be processed for businesses like restaurants or school cafeterias while the other 50% is produced for household consumption.
When news of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders started to roll out, Millican said the restaurant portion of business was hit hard.
The cooperative United Dairymen of Arizona created the Milk Crisis Plan that would provide assistance to dairy farmers nationwide. This plan would allow dairy products to be purchased for food banks and have a forgivable loan program to help the farmers.
In a letter from the United Dairymen of Arizona to the USDA urging them to support the plan, Craig Caballero said this is the biggest dairy market crash the industry has seen in 60 years, and without this support, many third- and fourth-generation farms will not make it through the next 90 days.
“To date, our farm families have poured over 9 million pounds of excess raw milk and over 1 million pounds of cream down the drain,” Caballero said in his letter. “USDA plays the most significant role in our industry’s efforts to offset the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, diminishing markets, and the greatest losses we have ever seen in UDA’s history.”
Feeding America has partnered with dairy farms to bring milk to food banks across the country through The Great American Milk Drive to also provide some help for the dairy farmers.
Kerr said milk is the most-requested item by food banks for families, but it’s the hardest to donate and keep because it’s a perishable item.
But the Great American Milk Drive, through the partnership with dairy farmers, has provided more than 31 million milk servings to those in need since 2014.
“Even when this clears up, people can still continue to give to the Great American Milk Drive and help the dairy farmers,” he said. “This isn’t something they need to do only in these stressful times.
“If anyone wants to help the dairy farmers, buy more milk, eat more cheese and donate to the Great American Milk Drive,” Rovey said. “You’re helping the dairy farmer, you’re helping yourself and you’re helping the needy.”
Millican said prior to the pandemic, the dairy farm had no issue with finding a place for all the milk produced. For the milk that didn’t go to the restaurants or grocery stores, it was dried into powder and shipped out of Arizona to other countries like Mexico. But after the borders became closed off, Millican had no other choice but to start dumping excess supplies of milk.
“It’s awful. I hate seeing dumped milk,” Millican said. “I know the governor of Arizona and the Arizona Dairy Council are doing their best to open them back up, but in the meantime, we can’t just turn the cows off. They don’t work like that.”