National Dairy Month 2020: Dairy farmers and workers are always essential workers

By Darren Turley, executive director, Texas Association of Dairymen

As non-essential businesses closed their doors and millions of workers across the country shifted to working online from home during this COVID-19 pandemic, dairy farmers and workers have stayed on the job, on the farm. You can’t turn off a cow to put milking on hold, and you can’t feed livestock over Zoom.

Just as Texans haven’t stopped eating, Texas dairy farms haven’t stopped producing healthy, wholesome milk and dairy products to feed them.

June is National Dairy Month, and it’s a great opportunity not only to enjoy milk, ice cream, cheese and other dairy products, but to recognize that dairy farmers and employees are essential workers – not just during this coronavirus crisis, but always.

Dairy farms, milk processors, milk transporters and others in the food supply chain have continued to operate over the recent months, unlike many businesses.

But, like these other businesses, dairies also have been financially hurt during this coronavirus crisis even as they’ve continued to operate.

In the early weeks of the pandemic, demand for milk, cheese and other dairy products plummeted as exports were disrupted and as restaurants and other food service businesses – which purchase large quantities of milk, cheese and other dairy products – were ordered shuttered.

Dairy farmers found themselves with more milk on hand than they could sell, with the national milk supply exceeding demand by 10%. That’s a bigger gap than consumer purchasing at the grocery store could fill. And, as mentioned earlier, you can’t just turn off a cow; they must be milked at least twice a day.

Unfortunately, that caused a short-term dumping of milk by some dairy farmers. Thankfully, this was more widespread in other parts of the country than in Texas.

It’s gut wrenching – not to mention a hit to finances – for a dairy farmer to watch his or her milk flowing down a drain, especially at a time when milk was disappearing from grocery stores and a growing number of people were losing their jobs and needed help to buy food.

Dairy farmers and employees work long hours and take a great deal of pride in feeding consumers.

Thankfully, the picture has stabilized some in recent weeks. Farmers are eligible for some federal financial relief, restaurants and other food service businesses are reopening and starting to restock their milk and dairy, and the dairy industry has formed partnerships to supply its products to food banks and other organizations to feed those in need.

Still, these remain difficult times for dairy farmers, who are being forced to make tough decisions in addition to worrying about keeping their families and their workforce safe and healthy.

Yet today, tomorrow and every day after, dedicated dairy farmers and workers across Texas and the nation will get up before the sun rises and start another day of feeding and milking their herds.

The Texas Association of Dairymen hopes you’ll join us in thanking them for keeping us all fed, in good and bad times.

And during National Dairy Month, you can show some extra support and beat the summer heat by enjoying an extra glass or two of cold milk or your favorite ice cream, cheese or other dairy product.

Darren Turley is executive director of the Texas Association of Dairymen, and @TXDairymen on Twitter.