The dairy industry works to adapt to consumer changes
By KOURTNEY HUPPERT (LCTV)
The dairy industry has had its fair share of difficulties in the past twenty years – battling record low prices that have forced thousands of dairy operations across the nation to close. The dairy farms that remain, face a new set of challenges in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.
On April 18th, the Larson Acres dairy farm near Evansville, Wisconsin, had to dump their milk – literally spilling their profits – due to disruption of production in the milk supply chain. Certainly a first for the 5th generation dairy farm, but they were not alone, as dairy farms across the nation also reported doing so.
Sandy Larson explained she felt “sad, anxious, confused. Lots of emotions. But we do not have to dump milk now. We were able to find a buyer at a much lower price.”
Larson goes on to explain how COVID-19 is changing how consumers buy their products. “Restaurants and schools are main end-users of milk and cheese. Consumer buying habits have changed because of it. The way the products are packaged and delivered needs to be changed and that does not happen quickly.”
As dairy farms are considered an essential agriculture business, Larson Acres continues to go about their normal work schedules with feeding and milking, and have started to prepare for the spring planting season.
They’re also taking extra safety precautions to keep everyone on the farm safe, including their 75 employees. “We’re operating under a new normal. We have stepped up the cleaning and disinfecting in high traffic areas and things that people touch often. We have hand sanitizer available all over the farm and also a disinfectant,” said Larson
She also explains how deliveries have changed since the Corona outbreak, “Most companies are not requiring signatures for deliveries. Deliveries are left in designated areas and not brought inside.”
Darin Copeland, public relations manager for Prairie Farms, assures that “Our dairy farmers, delivery drivers, plant workers, and office workers are all working hard to keep store shelves stocked with dairy products during COVID-19.”
With over 700 farm families, 6000 employees, 44 manufacturing plants, over 100 distribution facilities, Prairie Farms is one of the largest dairy cooperatives in the Midwest.
Copeland emphasized that Prairie Farms is taking safety precautions seriously to protect their employees by following CDC guidelines closely. “[We’re] practicing social distancing, providing masks for employees who can’t social distance, frequent hand washing, employee temperature checks at our plants, and increased disinfecting of our facilities.”
Similar to Larson Acres, Prairie Farms has also seen sales and production significantly affected by the pandemic.
“Sales of our milk and dairy products to schools, restaurants, and institutions have largely been diminished so we’re now taking that lost volume to other areas where demand has actually increased like the grocery store,” explained Copeland.
He adds that “Many of our dairy products including ice cream, butter, cheese, and fluid milk have experienced an increase in sales during COVID-19.”
Copeland also mentions that Prairie Farms is also committed to helping local communities during this crisis. “ We are working with the USDA to provide milk and dairy products to non-profit organizations through the ‘farm to table food box program.’ That will be rolling out in May.”
Copeland wants to remind everyone that, “we’re an essential business of helping feed America during these difficult times.”