As some U.S. farmers dump milk, Oregon dairies find new ways to handle virus crisis
It's "heartbreaking" for Tami Kerr to see dairy farmers in other states dumping tens of thousands of gallons of milk.
"It's almost like watching tears go down the drain. It's extremely painful," Kerr said. She comes from a family of dairy farmers and is the executive director of the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association.
In Wisconsin, Ohio and other states, dairy farmers are having to dump their milk because the supply is getting too large for processors to handle. According to KOIN 6 News' sister station WJW, that's because milk that was being made for cheese and other products for schools has to go elsewhere due to closures. In Oregon, as well as other states, there was a run on milk and dairy products at the start of the coronavirus response. Now, though, some stores have put limits on quantities shoppers can buy, which farmers say is hurting, not helping.
While Kerr said she hasn't heard of farmers here in Oregon dumping milk yet, she said it is possible farmers could reach that point.
"A lot of it is just the supply chain that really is on its head right now," she said. "I have never experienced anything like this in my lifetime as far as the changes in and closures."
All this comes on the heels of several challenging years for dairy farmers, according to Kerr.
"There's been a shortage in labor, an increase in regulations, an increase in business requirements, the new corporate activity tax and first quarter payments will be due at the end of April," she said. "All of those things make it more difficult to be in business. And the COVID-19 just is another really big challenge that we weren't anticipating."
Oregon has about 200 Grade A dairy farms and directly supports more than 12,000 jobs, according to the International Dairy Foods Association.
A "fair amount" of Oregon's milk does leave the state, Kerr said. According to the U.S. Dairy Export Council, the majority of the country's milk exports are bound for Mexico, then Southeast Asia, Canada and China.
"I guess we're eternally hardworking and optimistic in agriculture, we always want to do the best that we can," she said. "So hopefully this turns around sooner rather than later and hopefully we can survive."
KOIN 6 News is a Portland Tribune news partner.
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