Dairy industry taking big hit during coronavirus pandemic

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The coronavirus pandemic is having a ripple effect on the dairy industry in Missouri and across the country.

Farmers are being asked to dump good milk down the drain. The supply is there but the demand has fallen off.

Chris Heins is the owner of Heins Family Farm in Higginsville, Missouri, where they produce about 8,000 gallons of milk per day.

Last week, he had to dump a whole tank of milk.

“I don’t have the exact figure of what that was, but it was a very significant amount,” Heins said. “I think regardless of how much your dumping it’s kind of an emotional time.”

The dairy industry took a huge hit when restaurants and schools were forced to close last month to prevent the spread of COVID-19. At the same time, consumers were stockpiling, forcing grocery stores to limit the number of items people could buy including milk.

“This second blow is hard to deal with. I’m not going to pretend that it’s not,” Heins said.

On Tuesday, the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the State Milk Board sent a joint letter to the Grocers association asking that stores consider removing the customer limit on milk. The agencies recognized there was an initial spike in consumer buying but said there was never a milk shortage.

“It’s a down market for dairymen and women,” said Chris Chinn, the director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture. “The limits were put in place to make sure every consumer could have some milk, so once the learned that the supply was there, they have increased their orders to help meet that need.”

Many dairy farmers across the state are in co-ops and are now rotating when they have to dump milk, which helps soften the financial blow. Some farmers can also use the dumped milk as fertilizer in their fields.

“It’s really hard to predict how long this is going to last,” Chinn said.

For now, Heins, who’s working out how he can donate some milk to local pantries, is hoping people will support the industry and buy more dairy products.

“Eat that extra ice cream, put that extra slice of cheese on your hamburger, whatever it may be,” he said. “It might give you a little comfort, it might give me a little comfort.”

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