It adds that major segments of the milk marketplace dried up virtually overnight. The shutdown of the nation’s schools, restaurants and coffee shops obliterated major dairy markets, leaving cheesemakers and milk processors with nowhere to ship what they produce.
The alliance says prompt action is critical to save the industry.
It argued that, last week, the Feeding America network estimated the need for an extra $1.4bn in resources over the next six months as the number of food insecure people is set to increases by 47% due to COVID-19.
"The people we serve and the charitable food system in the United States are facing a ‘Perfect Storm,’ with surges in demand, declines in food donations and volunteers, and disruptions to normal operating procedures, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis,” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America.
“It is all of our neighbors who now more than ever need help putting food on their tables.”
The alliance said that, at the farm level, there is milk ready and available for use in processing. At the other end of the supply chain, food banks, pantries and shelters all have a desperate need for products.
Groups send letter to government
To address the issues, groups representing dairy farmers and cooperatives in the Midwest have joined to urge the federal government to provide direct assistance to farmers and to expedite the purchase of additional dairy foods amid unprecedented disruptions in supply and demand due to the COVID-19 national emergency.
In a letter to the US Department of Agriculture, the groups cited the mass closure of restaurants, schools and other food service outlets, decimated export markets and a sharp drop in prices farmers are being paid for their milk.
“Direct relief to dairy farmers and a substantial purchase of dairy commodities by USDA can ensure our industry will remain fiscally able to function in its primary role of feeding the nation and the world,” the groups said.
The letter was issued jointly by Cooperative Network, Dairy Business Association, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, Wisconsin Farm Bureau and Wisconsin Farmers Union.
In pushing for product purchases, the groups specifically asked USDA to focus on non-fat dry milk, butter, cheddar, mozzarella, other Italian styles of cheese, and dairy products purposed for use by restaurants and food service vendors.
The recently passed CARES Act directs $14bn to the Commodity Credit Corporation, $9.5bn to a dedicated disaster relief fund for agriculture, $25bn for SNAP programs and $450m to support food banks serving the food insecure.
“This bill enables unprecedented support for farmers and unprecedented commodity purchases, and we need USDA to bring these forms of aid to bear immediately,” the letter said.
“Dairy manufacturers have seen their largest market channel — food service sales to restaurants, schools, colleges, and destinations — deeply cut in the effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. Sales lost at hundreds of thousands of restaurants and institutions cannot be replaced, and our industry looks to the U.S. government to purchase dairy products to move to food pantries and family feeding programs,” the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association said.
The Dairy Business Association and Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative said that during this time of great uncertainty, the government must act quickly to provide assistance to those who supply the world’s food with more stability.
“In the dairy space, that means farmers should have confidence that they will be paid for all the milk they produce. There is also a need for the mass purchase of dairy products to help markets adjust to this new environment,” they said.
The Cooperative Network added, "The dairy industry is facing unprecedented challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is essential that every possible means of support be given to Wisconsin dairy farmers and cooperatives as quickly as possible. This support should include increased government purchases and distribution of dairy products from cold storage.”
The Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin said, “America’s freedom, strength and future hinges on its ability to feed its people. We must make sure that this crisis doesn’t leave America weak by our inability to deliver food to our own people. There is no good reason for Americans to go hungry while our farms are the most capable and efficient in the world. We need immediate action.”
“America's dairy farmers are doing everything they can to support the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular making sure that American households have a steady supply of milk and other dairy products,” the Wisconsin Farmers Union added.
“The economic disruption of the past several weeks has had dire consequences for U.S. dairy farmers. Wisconsin Farmers Union urges the USDA to take swift action to help dairy farmers so they can in turn help others at this critical time.”