CORONA Wisconsin farmers forced to dump milk as coronavirus slams a fragile dairy economy


Veteran Member

Wisconsin farmers forced to dump milk as coronavirus slams a fragile dairy economy

Rick Barrett, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

6-7 minutes

Fresh milk gushes down a drain at the Elbe family's Golden E Dairy because the dairy plant they sell to has more milk than they can process.

About 7 o’clock Tuesday night, Golden E Dairy got the call that any dairy farmer would dread. They were being asked to dump 25,000 gallons of fresh milk a day because there was no place for it to go as the marketplace for dairy products has been gutted by the closure of restaurants, schools, hotels and food-service businesses.

An hour later, the family-run farm near West Bend opened the spigot and started flushing its milk into a wastewater lagoon — 220,000 pounds a day through next Monday.

It was surreal, said Ryan Elbe, whose parents, Chris and Tracey Elbe, started the farm in 1991 with about 80 cows and grew it into an operation that today milks 2,400.

“We thought this would never happen,” Elbe said. “Everybody’s rushing to the grocery store to get food, and we have food that’s literally being dumped down the drain.”

But the Wisconsin dairy industry has been dealt a harsh blow from the economy that’s been slammed by coronavirus shutdowns. About one-third of the state’s dairy products, mostly cheese, are sold in the food-service trade.

Dairy farmers, whose product is highly perishable, are seeing processing plants close or curb production, forcing them to flush their milk down the drain if there’s no other buyer.

“I think that a lot of milk will all of a sudden be dumped. Everyone across the industry is feeling distressed now,” said Julie Sweney, spokeswoman for FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative in Madison.

“Over the last several hours I have heard this is unfolding. There is definitely a strain on markets now. The whole consumption rate for milk is so much different than it was before COVID-19,” Sweney said.

For now, Dairy Farmers of America, the cooperative the Elbe family belongs to, has agreed to pay them for their milk that’s being dumped. But, like most coops, DFA is in tough financial shape and can only afford to do that for so long.
“We need to figure this out now, not in the next couple of weeks,” Elbe said.

“I know many industries are experiencing hardship now. This is just the story of ours,” he added.

Normally, his family’s milk goes to a Kemp’s processing plant owned by Dairy Farmers of America. But that plant is full to the brim, as are many others across Wisconsin.

Some of the larger DFA members were asked to dump their milk this week because, as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, it could be monitored in their regulated wastewater lagoons.

“You can’t just dump milk in a field,” Elbe said.

There’s simply too much of it now, according to DFA based in Kansas City.

“This, in combination with the perishable nature of our product, has resulted in a need to dispose of raw milk on farms in some circumstances,” Kristen Coady, a DFA vice president, said in a statement provided to the Journal Sentinel.

“With the uncertainty of COVID-19 and evolving consumer buying habits, we are seeing demand for dairy products change. While we initially saw increased demand at grocery stores as consumers stocked up on many products, like dairy … the retail demand is starting to level off. For this reason, we anticipate that milk will be more readily available at grocery stores in the coming weeks,” Coady added.
Flushing milk down the drain is heart-wrenching, Elbe said, even if a farmer is being reimbursed for it by their cooperative.

The wasted product represents a massive amount of work on the farm that includes the planting and harvesting of crops and raising youngstock into milking cows.
“This is a lot of milk, planning and hard work going up in flames,” Elbe said.

Dairy veterinarian Kent Bindl, from Sheboygan, put it this way Wednesday:
“For me today, we have reached a new level of despair. As a veterinarian for the past 18 years, I have seen the resiliency and optimistic nature of my clients be tried over and over again. However, today is different. Many have been told there is no place to process today's loads and milk is being pumped into their manure storage facilities. The pain these producers are feeling today is palpable.”
More farms are likely to experience milk dumping in the coming weeks. The recent dairy crisis that began in late 2014 underscored changes in agriculture that have been taking place for decades but sped up more than many expected.

In the last few years, thousands of Wisconsin dairy farmers lost money practically every day they milked cows as an oversupplied market kept prices depressed. Waves of small and midsize farms shut down because they didn’t benefit from economies of scale found on larger operations.

“The disposal of milk, which we hoped to avoid, has begun, and that is very troubling,” said Daniel Smith, president and CEO of Cooperative Network, a Wisconsin and Minnesota group that represents cooperatives in dozens of fields including agriculture, health care and utilities.

"The dairy industry is facing unprecedented challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is essential that every means of support be given to Wisconsin dairy farmers and cooperatives as quickly as possible. This support should include increased government purchasing and distribution of dairy products,” Smith said.


I give up.
Yeah, my son walked over to the 7/11 a few minutes ago, and there were only two gallons of milk. He grabbed one, even though we didn't need it yet. This is pathetic. I have some canned, and a box, and a creamer, but I really prefer milk in my coffee.


Bubble Head

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Empty shelves of milk and butter are pretty common scenes around here. Another agenda success story. Remember diary is bad because cows fart. Well they really can't fart but the do chew their cud.

My Grandparents told me during the depression that the government would come on the farms and kill pigs and cattle because they considered it a surplus with hopes of driving up the price and relatives in the city had no money and were given oatmeal to survive on. There is nothing a Democrap can not screw up.

Redirection of distribution is needed concerning the milk processing system. A little thought and imagination could go a long way about now.

Old Gray Mare

Has No Life - Lives on TB
What other government sponsored atrocities against the American farmer are new ?
There's more. If the EPA catches them dumping milk on their fields they can be fined for illegal dumping. No not making that up. I worked for a small cheese maker. They had to have a special drain field for the whey, milk/cheese making by product. It was legal to feed it to pigs but not dump it on fields.


Neither here nor there.
Think of all the kids out of school that drank milk there and all the cheese that was served in now closed restaurants.
That if were available in local grocery stores parents would be buying for their kids. I'm a memeber of the Aldi Nerd group and in some places milk is even harder to find than TP.


Neither here nor there.
Wow, wonder what other goods are being destroyed because of the drop in demand?
There is NO drop in demand! There's an actual shortage in the stores! Those products can be repackaged for the retail market, instead they are choosing to dump it and call it a loss instead!


This too shall pass.
Summerthyme needs to weigh in here, but I don’t think it’s as simple as repackaging. The plant that buys the raw milk has a certain capacity, and may be physically unable to exceed that. They may also do only certain types of processing and don’t have the equipment for other types.



Veteran Member
I am with Kathleen here. I think this is a problem with the processor. Maybe they didn't adapt fast enough to Newmarket demands.


Neither here nor there.
Summerthyme needs to weigh in here, but I don’t think it’s as simple as repackaging. The plant that buys the raw milk has a certain capacity, and may be physically unable to exceed that. They may also do only certain types of processing and don’t have the equipment for other types.

The plant here that buys the raw milk, Anderson Erikson, also processes the milk and it goes to retail, schools, and restaurants in the form of milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, and ice cream.


Veteran Member
of course they would not dump it if they didn't have to. i have a sneaking suspicion that this has a lot to do with some regulations way more than demand dropping. not buying it (no pun intended lol)

i think another thing we shall see out of this is just how many pointless, useless, hindering, costly yet unnecessary regulations there are in many areas. hopefully, it will lead to some changes. i can hope anyway.


Veteran Member
A quick google search will find that farmers dump milk every year. This is the kind of stuff that happens when government gets involved.


Veteran Member
Govt used to buy up exsess milk and spray dry it . Some was sold some was put into are strategic food storage. Back in the 80s they closed the one in Springville ny . My company took all the scrap metal in their bone yard.


Disaster Cat
This is a supply chain thing and it DID happen during the Great Depression and anyone my age or older (I'm 63) that had rural relatives grew up hearing all about it especially if their parents or grandparents had to do some of the dumpings.

Meanwhile, folks like my Dad's family who lived in what was then rural Southern California (now part of a Long Beach suburb) were "wealthy" because my great aunt was a Lady Doctor and they had a small cow to make sure there was milk for the family.

As I said in the other thread, here in Ireland they haven't started dumping milk yet but it may come to that, the government has asked dairy farmers to lower production but the cows are already producing the milk and most of the markets, slaughterhouses etc have their own issues not to mention trying to get cattle feed if there isn't enough grass etc.

The supply chain and processing issues were a problem during the Great Depression too, one reason (in addition to civil defense) the Federal Government used to buy up surplus milk and dry it, hold it for "famine" relief for a few years and then distribute it to the poor as well as making "government cheese" and other delights of my childhood (or that of my friends).

With milk, you see a speedup up version of what happens whenever there's a glitch in the farming distribution system, because it can't wait - an individual dairy farmer can't process all that milk, they don't have the time or the materials to do so.

So if it isn't picked up, except for anything the farmer's family uses, it gets dumped; this cascades to shortages in the shops.

Summertyme can give more details but this happened in the 1930s, it is happening now (in the 1930s the milk couldn't be sold for the price it cost to pick it up).

This is just the start of problems like this.