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Cuomo Seeks To Get Excess Dairy To Those In Need Amid Pandemic

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo

The food supply disruptions caused by the coronavirus has led to some dairy farmers dumping some of their milk because they have no place to sell it. Governor Andrew Cuomo says the state will be stepping 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 pounds 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 due to the state ordered closures.

Meanwhile, milk has been scarce in coolers at grocery stores and some stores have had to limit milk purchases. And demand at food banks, due to one third of New Yorkers losing their jobs, has increased by 200% in some regions, and 40% to 60% statewide.

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’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, speaking to public radio and TV via Skype, says he’s tried to make the best use of the milk by feeding it back to the heifers and their calves. But he says it’s not that easy to switch milk supply destined for wholesale to cartons that appear in the grocery store. It needs to be processed and packaged first.

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

Governor Cuomo says he’s dismayed by the milk dumping, and he says 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 says the state will connect the farms with industries who can buy the excess milk and process it into other dairy products like 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 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 it.”

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

And he says the closure of meat processing plants in the Western US, due to outbreaks of COVID-19 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 public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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