A number of Manteca dairies are being forced to dump milk as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic ricochets through the economy.
The milk dumping is the result of three factors intersecting. This is “the spring flush” for dairies when milk production is at its peak. The pandemic has reduced the workforce in processing plants. An abrupt drying up of demand — the closure of schools and restaurants — is also working against dairy farmers.
Former Manteca Mayor Steve DeBrum, who is retired from the Dairy Farmers of America, was working in his role on the Second Harvest Food Bank board on Monday to see if it is possible for some of the slack in demand and overproduction to make its way into households struggling with food insecurity while being hit with the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic. There are more than 12 dairies in the Manteca-Ripon-Escalon area as well as a number between the San Joaquin River and Tracy. Dairy production in 2018 accounted for $360 million of San Joaquin County’s farm production. It is the third largest farm commodity by dollar value after almonds and grapes.
Dairy futures, according to the Dairy Institute of California, are on a downhill slide and could end the year $1.70 lower than the $16.30 average last year.
Milk dumping has been occurring for several days in a number of other states.
Dairy groups in the Midwest sent a letter to the United States Department of Agriculture seeking direct federal assistance to dairy farmers and to expedite federal purchase of more dairy products amid what is being characterized as “unprecedented disruptions” in both supply and demand.
The letter cites the closure of schools, restaurants, and severely exports due to the pandemic to the point it is severely hammering the price dairy farmers are receiving for milk.
The initial “shortages” created by hoarding at supermarkets in mid-March as stay-at-home orders were issued did little to make up for the loss of school, restaurant, and export customers.
Most stores have lifted restrictions that limited customers to one or two gallons of milk although most store dairy cases by late Saturday afternoon were running low on milk.
Milk that is being dumped has been either spread on fields or makes its way in to manure ponds.
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