Partnership seen as a way to bridge gap in distribution

By Jason Arndt

Staff Writer

Weeks after some dairy farmers were asked to dump milk, citing a change in demand because of COVID-19, a joint effort among three agencies looks to rescue some of the milk produced by the state’s dairy farmers.

The effort involves the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee.

Hunger Task Force, according to DFW, plans to commit up to $1 million in the state’s newly created Wisconsin Dairy Recovery Program.

Family-owned dairy cooperative Kemps, of Cedarburg, started the first phase last week by processing thousands of gallons of milk as part of the Wisconsin Dairy Recovery Program.

Kemps will then bottle milk for distribution to Hunger Task Force.

“We are proud to partner on this much-needed program to help get wholesome and nutritious milk to where it is needed most, while helping Wisconsin dairy producers,” said Kemps General Manager Dan Williamson. “As a farmer-owned organization, we understand how challenging the current environment is for dairy farmers, and are deeply appreciative of this collaborative effort.”

Chad Vincent, Chief Executive Officer for DFW, said the partnership offers dairy farmers some relief as the industry experienced substantial losses of revenue and supply chains because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The revenue losses come after 75% of the nation’s 660,000 restaurants closed to stem the spread of the disease.

According to DFW, along with restaurants, schools, which are also closed, account for half the dairy market.

“This is an important partnership for our dairy farmers who, through no fault of their own, are faced with incredible challenges to keep product moving through the system,” Vincent said.

Task Force responds

The Hunger Task Force, which will distribute milk to free and local partner food banks and pantries, will connect underfed and unemployed workers with dairy resources statewide.

“The Wisconsin Dairy Recovery Partnership is the current best solution to feed the hungry while supporting Wisconsin dairy farmers and producers in these difficult and uncertain times,” said Executive Director Sherrie Tussler, of the Hunger Task Force.

Hunger Task Force serves 50,000 people on a monthly basis with children accounting for 40% percent of that number.

As part of the partnership, Hunger Task Force is seeking donations from community members, which will go towards its commitment.

“An anonymous family has offered $100,000 to match donations for this special campaign,” the Hunger Task Force wrote on its website. “Donate today and get your milk donation doubled. Your support will help purchase and deliver nutritious milk and dairy products across the state to families in need.”

Contributors can make a donation by visiting www.HungerTaskForce.org/dairy.

Hunger Task Force, founded in 1974, offers a safety net of emergency food to a network of food pantries and homeless shelters in Wisconsin.

Economic stability

Vincent, meanwhile, indicates the partnership will offer some stability for Wisconsin’s farmers.

In addition, the partnership highlights a farmer’s willingness to help area communities.

“The opportunity to do something for our communities is part of farmers’ DNA,” Vincent said. “Keeping our farms as stable as possible is absolutely critical to the economic health of the communities where they live…and ultimately the state’s economy. We will continue to look for ways to get milk and dairy products to people in need. We are committed to developing new avenues for the movement of milk while the nation recovers from the pandemic.”

The dairy industry contributes $45.6 billion to the state’s economy, which according to the DATCP, illustrates the importance of supporting farmers.

“That’s why DATCP is joining our partners in agriculture to help find ways to get milk from our dairy farms to consumers in need. We appreciate the partnership of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and Hunger Task Force and their generous contributors as we work to connect the dots between Wisconsin producers, processors and consumers.”

Change in demand

At the start of April, a coalition of dairy groups called on the United States Department of Agriculture to help the industry, including the Cheese Makers Association.

John Umhoefer, Executive Director of CMA, said the state’s industry experienced a rapid change in demand that caused some milk producers to dump their product.

“With hundreds of thousands of restaurants, schools and universities closed, we’ve lost an enormous market,” he said in an April 1 conference call with reporters.

If the milk is simply given away, according to Umhoefer, the dairy industry would experience market instability.

Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, Dairy Business Association, Cooperative Network, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Professional Dairy Producers and the Wisconsin Farmers Union joined the Cheese Makers Association in the plea for federal assistance.

Federal help planned

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue has since announced plans to assist dairy farmers.

Perdue’s $16 billion plan includes $2.9 billion in direct payments for various commodities as well as $3 billion to buy produce, dairy and meat products.

The plan also consists of a $100 million investment in dairy products per month.

In a joint statement, Edge Dairy and DBA said they were encouraged by the plan.

“As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on our economy, millions of Americans cannot afford food, many for the first time in their lives, and our farmers who produce this food are struggling to survive financially. This federal assistance will be a bridge for both,” the statement said.

 

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