Coronavirus outbreak causes dairy farmers to dump milk supply

Posted at 1:15 PM, Apr 14, 2020

Thousands of gallons of milk are being dumped onto grasslands in Florida, because dairy farmers cannot get their milk supply to the markets to sell.

It’s been tough for Brittany Thurlow, a dairy farmer in Florida.

“As the impact of the food service, restaurants, schools closed down, started to catch up with us, we went from a massive peak to a massive valley on milk sales,” explained Thurlow.

Thurlow is a fifth-generation dairy farmer. Her family’s farm in Florida is part of a co-op. While her farm hasn’t directly dumped any milk yet, members of the co-op have and that hits Thurlow’s bottom line, too.

“If one farm has the ability to dump on his farm, he shouldn’t have to bear the cost of all of that," she said. "So, that is part of the reason of the co-op. We all work together and share the costs together."

A big chunk of the industry's demand comes from schools and hospitality.

“The normal amount of some dairy products, like cheese and butter, there’s a tremendous amount used in restaurants, and that has just kind of disappeared at this point,” said Colleen Larson, who works as an agent for the University of Florida's dairy extension program.

Business is also being hurt by stores limiting how much milk customers can buy.

Larson says those restrictions on milk aren't needed.

“There is plenty of milk, and we understand there is going to be some bottle necks in the processing, but limiting milk just keeps it on the shelf and then those orders continue to disappear and dairy farmers continue to have to dump more milk,” said Larson.

There’s more than enough milk to go around, they say.

“Us not having a place to send our extra milk, we call it surplus milk. That’s been a big driver in the reason of having to dump milk, because there’s simply no home for it,” said Thurlow.

It’s not just milk. A recent New York Times report details farmers destroying eggs, onions, and other produce because they simply can’t get it to customers.

Thurlow’s family farm is in good shape, so far, and they've been donating what they can to food banks

But she worries about how others will fair during this.

“You know, we all have our breaking point," she said. "But a dairymen who’s 60, 70 years old and who has gone through all of this, there comes a point where a man just has to throw in the towel."

Brittany says she’s not throwing in the towel anytime soon, but just like the rest of us, she wants the pandemic to be over soon rather than later.