'Major oversupply of milk' due to COVID-19 has Wisconsin farmers dumping it down the drain

WEST BEND -- With schools closed and restaurants open for carryout or delivery only due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for milk has decreased dramatically, at a time when Wisconsin's dairy industry was already struggling. Farmers are doing something they've never done before -- dumping their product down the drain.

Basically everything at Golden E Dairy was running normally on Wednesday, April 1, except the milk that normally goes into tanks instead headed down the drain.

"It's almost like a false reality," said Ryan Elbe. "Like, it's not actually happening, but it is. We have never dumped milk before. This is not something that you normally do."

Ryan Elbe

Elbe said Dairy Farmers of America requested he dispose of the milk due to a shift in demand caused by the coronavirus.

"It's my understanding there is a major oversupply of milk," said Elbe.

Other dairy farmers were asked to do the same.

On Wednesday afternoon, at the direction of Governor Tony Evers, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection requested that the United States Department of Agriculture purchase surplus commodities for redistribution to food banks and nutrition assistance programs.

“In a time when many people are already food-insecure, it’s more important than ever that we get Wisconsin’s nutritious commodities in the hands of consumers who need them the most,” said Governor Evers in a news release. “I’m hopeful that our federal partners understand the urgency of the need here, and will take action accordingly.”

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) submitted a letter to the USDA at Evers' request.

“With agriculture's massive $104.8 billion impact on Wisconsin’s economy, it is critical that all of us in this industry work together to navigate this new territory,” said DATCP Interim Secretary Randy Romanski. “DATCP has been in constant communication with people in all parts of the industry and hearing their concerns, including concerns about milk disposal. That’s why we’re urging USDA and Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation to take immediate action to keep the supply chain flowing and get product in the hands of people who need it most.”

"This is good, nutritious Grade A milk that would be on your storage shelf tomorrow night," said Elbe.

Because cows need to be milked for their health, Elbe said operations would continue -- hopeful the dumping would stop.

"Everything is staying the same," said Elbe. "The cows are still getting great, healthy diets."

Dairy groups representing farmers also urged the federal government to assist farmers by purchasing additional dairy foods amid these unprecedented disruptions -- sending a joint letter to the USDA. 

The Wisconsin DATCP’s Farm Center is available to provide resources to Wisconsin farmers and their families in need of assistance. The Farm Center hotline can be reached at 1-800-942-2474 or FarmCenter@wisconsin.gov.