Past month brings major changes to the Texas dairy industry
By Darren Turley, TAD executive director
What a difference a month makes.
The dairy industry is undergoing some very difficult discussions about its future in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.
National Milk Producers Federation has stated that the national milk supply exceeds demand by 10% as COVID-19 has disrupted milk exports and as restaurants and others in the food service industry have curtailed dairy orders during shut-downs or reduced service. Consumer purchasing at the grocery store cannot fill the void.
The real percentage might actually be higher as the dairy export market is still being impacted. I received an email earlier this week stating that the national demand for cheese has been reduced by 1,100 loads of milk per day across the country. This doesn’t even include other dairy products that have seen reduced sales as well.
The news media has been contacting the Texas Association of Dairymen regarding the industry impact and the dumping of milk by dairy farmers. The general consumer sees milk as the milk jug on grocery store shelves; they do not think of butter, cheese, ice cream and other dairy products when they think of dumping milk.
In addition, the public does not realize this is the most productive time of the year for dairy farmers with spring weather and green grass returning.
Our role, through the media, is to help the public understand the problem. They see reports of farmers dumping milk at the same time they witness milk disappearing from grocery stores and the growing number of people in need as they lose their jobs.
In addition to speaking with the media, TAD is working on the related environmental angle. TAD has discussed options for the disposal of several loads of milk with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These discussions have been very frustrating since we started having similar conversation several years ago following the major Goliath storm event.
At the time, TAD told TCEQ there will be a time when more milk will be produced than can be processed. And, when that happens, a plan is needed to quickly dispose of milk. Current disposal rules do not include dumping of the product; we’ve never wasted milk before due to the extremely efficient Texas dairy industry. Alternatives in the past included delivering it to markets in other states, but obviously this is not an option as the oversupply is a national problem.
Another reason milk is being disposed of at the farm is that once it is loaded on a tanker, it becomes industrial waste, and that is more expensive to discard. This standard set years ago by the EPA is one we continue to struggle with.
In addition to milk dumping, production reduction plans are being implemented by dairy cooperatives. The industry is trying to move quickly to adapt to the new production level to meet demand. The National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association have submitted a plan of action, the Milk Crisis Plan for USDA, to Congressional Ag Committee leaders, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, and leadership at USDA and the White House. The plan outlines how this crisis is affecting the U.S. dairy industry and suggests steps to bridge the supply/demand gap without any longer term market repercussions.
TAD also has worked to get members of Congress from Texas to sign on to the Dairy Price Act with a bipartisan group of legislators and help dairy farmers receive some aid in the next COVID-19 stimulus package. Here is the letter sent to Secretary Perdue.
These are very tough times for dairy farmers, full of tough decisions in addition to worrying about keeping their families and their workforce safe and healthy.
Please see the TAD website for links to COVID-19 resources to help keep you healthy, care for your animals and operate your farm.
And please take care of yourself and your family while you continue to feed our country’s families during this unprecedented time.