by Caroline Martin
Farmers are dumping, plowing, and smashing fresh produce and dairy due to low consumer demands.
With many schools and restaurants shut down because of concerns over COVID-19, farmers and food processors are struggling to distribute their vast supply of produce and dairy that usually is used by schools and restaurants. Tony Sarsam, CEO of Borden, a large milk producing company, says that, “About a third of our total production goes to either schools or restaurants.” Now with the decreasing demand, Borden is forced to dump their products, just like many other companies and even individual farmers. Added together, there is a surplus of food that has no use.
Dairy farmers are hit especially hard by this situation. Usually, schools are the largest consumers of milk, but now with schools shut down, dairy farmers are forced to dump the excess milk that would be typically used in schools. Restaurants also consume dairy, but some restaurants have closed temporarily for health and safety reasons. One example of how consumption of milk has decreased in restaurants is that a Starbucks in Cleveland, Ohio used to use around 3 loads of milk a day, with about 4500 gallons of milk inside of them. This Starbucks has been seeing a decrease in customers and now uses only one load of milk every 3 days. This is just a small portion of the problem. Dairy Farmers of America, the nation’s largest dairy organization, approximates that around 3.7 million gallons of milk are being put to waste each day. Around 5% of milk produced in America is being dumped, a percentage that will most likely double if this shutdown continues through the next couple of months, according to the International Dairy Foods Association. Darlington Ridge Farms, a dairy farming operation, is now forced to pour out about 50% of the milk they produce every day, which is about 15,000 gallons each day. This is equivalent to $20,000 going to waste per day in milk.
Produce farmers are also impacted by the loss of consumers. With hardly any restaurants or school lunch programs to use the vegetables, there is an abundance of leftover produce. Florida, in particular, is finding that they have leftover produce that would normally be sold to restaurants. With no one to buy the produce, many farmers have had to plow their ripe vegetables back into the soil or bury them underground to decompose and rot. Now, farmers must estimate whether or not the economy will be back in shape before the next harvest, but it can be very hard to predict.
Though some farmers are trying to store leftover produce and dairy, they often don’t have enough refrigerator space to store all of this food. They realize that repackaging food into smaller quantities for grocery stores would take too much time and money. Making gallon jugs for milk and creating smaller packages of cheese for grocery stores would take new packaging robots, new workers, and more money.
However, farmers and producers have been working hard to come up with alternative methods to use the excess food. Every week, Sanderson Farms, a chicken processor, has to destroy almost 6% of its unhatched eggs. However, these eggs are later turned into pet food, which gives the smashed eggs a use. Another way to use the extra food is to distribute it to food banks. For example, Floridian farmer Tony DiMare states that, “We gave 400,000 pounds of tomatoes to our local food banks.” This helps those who need food while also maintaining the amount of food left over. Additionally, some farmers are working with restaurants to try to increase their use of dairy. A few pizza restaurants have ended up putting more cheese on their pizzas. Another thing that will hopefully help is that with more time at home due to shelter in place, people may end up taking up baking as a hobby.
Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced farmers into an unprecedented situation. As Sydney Brooks, a sixth-generation dairy farmer from Waupaca, Wisconsin, said, “On your next grocery trip, please consider buying more cheese, butter, milk, yogurt, ice cream and cottage cheese to help support dairy farmers through Wisconsin and also the nation.”