By Clint Thompson
Calvin Moody has been a dairyman for more than two decades and has never experienced what he’s had to go through over the past few weeks.
“This is absolutely the first time in my lifetime that we’ve ever had to dump milk. I’ve been in the dairy business for over 20 years and never had to dump milk like this before,” said Moody, who owns Brooksco Dairy in Quitman, Georgia. “It’s certainly an unsettling feeling to see loads and loads of milk going down the drain.”
With restaurants and schools closed amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, milk consumption has been greatly reduced. Just how much milk has been dumped is a more difficult thought to ponder.
“We’re not having to dump any milk for our co-op for the rest of the week, but for this past week, I can’t remember off the top of my head how many loads we as a group had to dump but it was several loads. I’m not talking one or two loads, I’m talking in the 20s and 30s,” Moody said.
Moody estimates there are 48,000 pounds on a load.
A lot of the dairies have had to dump milk just due to grocery stores having caps in place, limiting the amount of milk consumers can purchase. That’s been Moody’s biggest frustration. But he’s hoping that could change soon.
“From what we’re told, the local grocery stores that make the orders, our hopes are that they will be adjusting their orders shortly,” Moody said. “It’s not the corporate level where it’s the problem. What we’re being told is the local grocery stores; they probably had the same milk order for 10 years. What’s happening is, what we’re being told by the corporate level is that (the local stores are) limiting just to make sure they don’t run out instead of increasing the orders.”
Moody also said there is usually an excess amount of milk anyway in the Southeast during the spring. Historically, BrooksCo has shipped to cheese plants in the upper Midwest. Unfortunately, that’s not an option right now.
“All of those cheese plants are closed because the restaurants aren’t buying the cheese. Our normal outlet for the surplus milk right now is completely drying up. That’s a big reason why we’re having to dump this milk because there’s no outlet,” Moody said.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue was asked during a press call on Wednesday with media members about the dairy industry asking the USDA to buy more perishable commodities and distribute to food banks and shelters and was this is a possibility in the future?
“Yes this is a possibility. Last year I think we purchased $50 million work of fluid milk and it took us all year long to distribute that out,” Perdue said. “The challenge is scale and scope and the amount of oversupply in the dairy industry with the disruption in the food location and schools and others. That’s one alternative to get milk off the farms and into homes. But the challenge is the quantity and the size.”
Milk is a highly perishable product, so food banks can only take so much since refrigeration space is limited.