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Farmers Want USDA to Buy Unused Products During Crisis

The group Dairy Farmers of America estimates a nearly 15% decline in orders for milk and other goods from large-scale customers during the pandemic. (Adobe Stock)
The group Dairy Farmers of America estimates a nearly 15% decline in orders for milk and other goods from large-scale customers during the pandemic. (Adobe Stock)
April 15, 2020

MADISON, Wis. -- Some Wisconsin farmers are faced with the prospect of dumping their products amid a steep drop in demand during the pandemic. That's prompting calls for action from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure that food isn't wasted and that farmers can get some financial help.

This was supposed to be a rebound year for dairy farmers after several "down" years. However, Kara O'Connor, Wisconsin Farmers Union government relations director, said they're now sitting on product that can't go to restaurants and other customers shut down by the crisis. She said federal ag officials could help by buying up commodity products such as butter and cheese, and seeing that they're used.

"We can do some things to take the kink out of the hose," she said, "and buying surplus dairy products for donation is one of those things."

O'Connor said they also want regulators to provide incentives for farmers to scale back production. The request for the USDA to redirect surplus goods comes amid reports of long lines at food banks around the country. The agency is expected soon to announce a plan for how it will spend some of the initial agriculture relief money approved by Congress.

Meanwhile, farmers are encouraged to research resources that offer guidance on ways to get their products into the hands of people who'll take it. Margaret Krome, government-relations director at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, said there's a lot of innovation out there.

"There are farmers and community groups, agencies -- all working to help farmers access consumers and food pantries that need it, and help farmers find their market." she said.

The Institute has a list of resources for farmers on its website, MichaelFields.org. The groups acknowledge that it isn't easy for farmers to quickly change their production facilities to serve new customers. That's another area in which they say policymakers can provide help.

The letter is online at dairyforward.com.

Disclosure: Michael Fields Agricultural Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Rural/Farming, Sustainable Agriculture. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - WI