Every day, Wisconsin dairy farmers Jim and Katie DiGangi see more of their lifelong work wasted.
“We certainly could not sleep well. It was very destructive,” said Katie DiGangi.
The couple’s family has worked on the farm for as long as they can remember. They say farming is their family’s passion and heritage, but the COVID-19 crisis has put it all at risk.
Darlington Ridge Farms produces around 30,000 gallons of milk every day – but now produces 12,000-15,000 gallons per day, because demand for food services has dried up. Restaurants, schools and other businesses that are closed by coronaviruses no longer need dairy farming.
“Removing half of our product – that we put blood, sweat, and tears in – is very heartbreaking,” Jim DiGangi said in an interview with Yahoo Finance.
When dairy farmers dispose of large quantities of milk, the warehouse fills with cheese that has nowhere to go.
“We are talking about millions and millions of pounds of unsold cheese because of lost and canceled orders from food services,” said John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Making Association.
Umhoefer told Yahoo Finance that half of all cheese, butter and other dairy products in the United States entered the food service industry.
“There are entire companies in our industry that are dedicated to serving only the food service industry – or 75% of their sales or 50% of their sales – and they find that all their orders are canceled in food services,” Umhoefer said. “This has never happened before.”
For DiGangis, one of the most frustrating parts of this situation is that some demand still exists, but the industry cannot fulfill it.
“Our local grocery store 10 miles away limits purchases of butter, milk and cheese and we are here to dump our milk because the supply chain is not designed for what is happening,” said Katie DiGangi.
“This is not designed for everyone at home. We all cook at home, “said Jim DiGangi. “So we have a product available. Supply chains – that is, processors, bottlers – [doesn’t] has tools and packaging to meet the retailer’s demand. “
Experts say it is not possible to immediately switch products designed for restaurants to grocery stores. The recipes, label requirements and the company that picks and ships the product are all different.
“To rebuild all that in a matter of weeks is not possible,” Umhoefer said.
Paul Bauer is the CEO of Ellesworth Cooperative Creamery in Wisconsin, which consists of about 300 dairy farms. The 110-year-old co-op has two factories and a processed cheese factory.
“If you plant blue cheese, you make blue cheese. If you are a producer of cheddar, you make cheddar,” Bauer said. “There’s no way you can take mozzarella cheese or blue cheese plant and suddenly turn it into a bottling plant. It doesn’t function like that’s because they don’t have the equipment to bottle it. “
writing a letter to the USDA, urging agencies to step in and help. MPs want the federal government to buy cheese and milk products for food banks throughout the country. “Data-reactid =” 90 “> Eight members of the Wisconsin Congress delegation writing a letter to the USDA, urging agencies to step in and help. MPs want the federal government to buy cheese and milk products for food banks throughout the country.
“We need immediate action to keep the milk supply chain moving and not waste important food produced by our farmers and food processing workers,” noted lawmakers.
make the case to the USDA, asking for help. “data-reactid =” 97 “> Industry too make the case to the USDA, asking for help.
“We need the USDA to improve and start getting forms of dairy products that may be slightly out of the reach of the average consumer – like a slice of processed cheese or mozzarella in larger chunks – so they can start distributing it,” Bauer said. “Because of the amazing food insecurity that we have in this country.”
“We need to provide food to people who need food and there needs to be direct assistance for farmers and processors to reduce the situation,” said Katie DiGangi.
In a statement to Yahoo Finance, the USDA said it was actively monitoring the agricultural commodity market during the coronavirus emergency.
“The US food supply chain remains safe and secure and we are committed to ensuring that American farmers, ranchers and producers get through this pandemic. We quickly evaluate the authority given under the CARES Act and will utilize our programs to reduce disruptions as needed, “said a USDA spokesman.
Bauer said coronavirus hit the dairy industry at a very painful time. This industry has struggled in recent years, partly because of volatile international trade.
“We see some normalized trade, but this pandemic has really disrupted it – and we don’t know how much agriculture can come out of this change,” he said. “The rate of decline will be dramatic as we progress.”
DiGangis employs 35 people on the farm and says that they have not fired anyone, partly because they need to ensure their 2,700 cows remain healthy. The couple told Yahoo Finance that they were in the process of applying for a small business loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, but they hoped the USDA would enter soon.
“We really need it, along with other small businesses,” said Jim DiGangi. “We are bleeding cash like everyone else.”
@ JessicaASmith8.“data-reactid =” 127 “>Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @ JessicaASmith8.
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