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Governor to step into milk-dumping by farmers

Natasha Haverty / NCPR

The food supply disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic have led to some dairy farmers dumping some of their milk because they have no place to sell it. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state will step in to try to get the milk to new markets and to help feed those left jobless from the economic shutdown.

Dairy farms and milk cooperatives have had to dump millions of gallons of milk in the past few weeks. It was supposed to go to restaurants, school cafeterias and other business customers who no longer need the milk because of the state-ordered closures. 

Meanwhile, milk has been scarce in coolers at some grocery stores and there have been some limits on milk purchases. Demand at food banks has increased by 200% in some regions, and 40%-60% statewide, due to a third of New Yorkers losing their jobs.  

David Fisher, the president of the New York Farm Bureau, owns a dairy farm in Madrid, in northern New York along the St. Lawrence River. He said he’s had to get rid of some of his milk because the buyers dried up.  

“It’s very frustrating,” Fisher said. “We have excess milk, but we can’t get it to people who are in need at this time.” 

Fisher said in an interview for public radio and television that he’s tried to make the best use of the milk by feeding it back to the heifers and calves. But he said it’s not that easy to switch milk supply destined for wholesale to cartons that appear in grocery stores. It needs to be processed and packaged first.  

“Pasteurization is a key part,” Fisher said. “Without all the plant capacity and proper distribution, it just can’t get where it needs to get to.”  

Cuomo said he’s dismayed by the milk dumping and he said the state will intervene to try to fix the problem.

"This is just a total waste to me,” Cuomo said. “We have people downstate who need food, we have farmers upstate who can’t sell their product. We have to put those two things together. It’s just common sense.” 

Cuomo said the state will connect the farms with industries that can buy the excess milk and process it into other dairy products, such as cheese, sour cream and yogurt. It would then be donated to food banks.

“We’re going to work with industries in our state who can use the milk and get it to people who need it,” Cuomo said. 

The effort will be led by Kelly Cummings, director of state operations, and state Agricultural Commissioner Richard Ball, among others. Companies participating include Chobani yogurt, Cabot and Upstate Niagara Cooperative, as well as the Dairy Farmers of America. 

Fisher calls the proposal “some much-needed good news.” 

“That was a bold step,” Fisher said. “And we really appreciate that.”  

Fisher said there is enough food for everyone, and there are no shortages. But he said distribution challenges remain. He said rationing of egg purchases in grocery stores is largely due to a temporary shortage of the cartons needed to sell them at retail outlets.  

He said the closure of meat processing plants in the western United States because of COVID-19 outbreaks in the plants will mean for now there will be less pork and beef on the shelves.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
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