Farmers forced to dump milk as coronavirus sets back dairy industry

President of Southeast Milk, the largest milk co-op in Florida, says demand has shifted amid the pandemic

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – At the initial onset of the coronavirus pandemic, surge buying skyrocketed. From toilet paper and paper towels to cleaning products and milk, stores could not keep items on the shelves.

Many saw and obeyed signs limiting customers to a certain number of products, but dairy farmers all over the country say that has set them back, forcing many dairy farmers to dump truckloads of surplus milk.

“Well, it’s not in the stores, but you can tell where it is," explained Travis Larson, a Florida dairy farmer.

Larson and his wife, Colleen, have 5,000 cows.

“Unfortunately, it’s been devastating. The number of truckloads of milk that have been dumped down the drains or in fields … is just the tip of what’s being done," Colleen Larson said.

Another dairy farmer in Florida, Jose Verano, is also draining milk.

Joe Wright is also a dairy farmer in the Sunshine State. And he is the president of Southeast Milk, Inc., the largest milk co-op in Florida.

“I have been a farmer for 31 years. We have 12,000 cows," he said. “I am actually sitting in front of a computer, going through cow records because we need to cut our production 18%.”

Although the demand has shifted, the production is still there, Wright said.

“We do wish the grocery stores would take off the restrictions of only letting people buy one or two gallons because we have plenty of milk. But all of what we call the institutional uses of milk -- schools, restaurants, theme parks, the hotels -- they’re closed. So we don’t have anywhere else to go with that milk," Wright said.

If stores are still enforcing limits on dairy products, they need to be lifted, Wright said.

“I understand about the third week of March. There was a run on the stores, and we sold every bit of milk we had and we even imported milk from faraway places to fulfill that need. But once we got over that rush, we have plenty of milk. In fact, we have food banks trying to get access to milk. There are people who want milk in a jug and cannot get it," he said.

Farmers explained that processors cannot change their lines overnight, so if they’re processing milk for schools in those small cartons, they can’t just switch over to gallons.

According to farmers, there are several conversations underway right now among them, co-ops and government agencies.

Out of several Publix stores that News4Jax visited, one store still had signs posted in the dairy section, enforcing limits. When reached for comment, Publix said it will contact that store because there should be no limits on milk and dairy products at its stores.

Out of the Winn-Dixie locations, News4Jax found its store in Yulee still had limits on dairy. News4Jax reached out to Winn-Dixie and was still waiting for comment as of early Tuesday evening.

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