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COVID-19 adds another hurdle in struggle to keep Michigan dairy farms afloat

The COVID-19 shutdown has thrown the dairy industry into a state of supply chain confusion.

Michigan's food producers are in a bind right now. So many customers, so few ways to reach them. Most of the products we buy in grocery stores are still available, but COVID-19 has sparked some subtle disruptions that go beyond the point of sale. One sector dealing with a disrupted supply chain is the state’s dairy industry.

Annie Link is a fourth-generation dairy farmer from Swiss Lane Farms. She joined Stateside to talk about how her farm and the Michigan dairy industry more broadly have been dealing with the crisis.

Supply chain disruptions

“About 70% of all milk was consumed through food service, restaurants, and schools, and exports. So if you combine all those markets, every single one of those is being totally disrupted right now by this pandemic.” Link explained.  “Our industry is seeing right now that there’s a 10-15% over supply because we haven’t been able to shift the way the milk is being processed and where the milk is being processed. To go from food service to retail looks very different.”

Take for example the dairy products going to restaurants, Link said. Some dairy processors are used to churning out huge blocks of cheese to send to restaurants, and shifting to packaging that same cheese for individual consumers is not a simple task.

“Now you’re not getting your milk or your dairy product from Domino's or from Pizza Hut, you want it in a gallon jug or in a one-pound pouch that’s already shredded. They can’t just all the sudden stop producing that big block of cheese, and then all the sudden start producing hundreds of thousands of pounds of milk into [cheese] in the little baggies.”

The cows are alright

“The one thing that’s good about all this is we do get some sort of normalcy in our day. I am very thankful for being able to work and being able to take care of the cows everyday and focusing on them, instead of all the chaos that’s going on all around us,” Link said. “Cows are very habitual. They thrive when you give them a very consistent environment so a routine and systems are very important to cows.”

Possible long term impacts of the COVID-19 shutdowns

“It’s hard for me to think that this isn’t just a short or temporary thing. I think because on a global scale, I just think that the need for people to get high quality protein and high quality food is just going to keep increasing, and the way that we can innovate with dairy and what we can do with that and how that nutrition is good for our bodies, I think that is going to be something that’s just going to keep increasing over the future."

This article was written by Stateside production assistant Olive Scott.

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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