Dairy groups call on USDA to expedite emergency assistance during COVID-19 crisis
MADISON, Wis. — On April 1, groups representing dairy farmers and cooperatives in the Midwest urged the federal government to provide direct assistance to farmers and to expedite the purchase of additional dairy foods amid unprecedented disruptions in supply and demand due to the COVID-19 national emergency.
In a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the groups cited the mass closure of restaurants, schools and other food service outlets, decimated export markets and a sharp drop in prices farmers are being paid for their milk.
“Direct relief to dairy farmers and a substantial purchase of dairy commodities by USDA can ensure our industry will remain fiscally able to function in its primary role of feeding the nation and the world,” the groups said.
The letter was issued jointly by Cooperative Network, Dairy Business Association, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, Wisconsin Farm Bureau and Wisconsin Farmers Union.
Dairy processors and farmers are working in cooperation and with open lines of communication, but these circumstances, far beyond their control, are beginning to result in fresh farm milk finding no available market for processing. Commodity dairy prices have plummeted and will result in milk prices lower than many farms can handle to sustain long-term viability, according to the groups.
The dairy groups urged the USDA to consider the different means available to the agency to make farmers whole for the milk they have produced but needed to dispose, or for which they received drastically reduced payments.
In pushing for product purchases, the groups specifically asked USDA to focus on non-fat dry milk, butter, cheddar, mozzarella, other Italian styles of cheese, and dairy products purposed for use by restaurants and food service vendors.
The recently passed CARES Act directs $14 billion to the Commodity Credit Corporation, $9.5 billion to a dedicated disaster relief fund for agriculture, $25 billion for SNAP programs and $450 million to support food banks serving the food insecure.
“This bill enables unprecedented support for farmers and unprecedented commodity purchases, and we need USDA to bring these forms of aid to bear immediately,” the letter said.