COVID-19 has impacted almost every sector of Ohio’s food production system and the range of that impact is far reaching. Ohio Farm Bureau members have shared both immediate issues as well as their concerns about the long-term burdens their livelihoods may shoulder because of the coronavirus outbreak.
One of the industries feeling the repercussions of the global pandemic is dairy. After hearing that some Ohio dairy farmers were being asked to dump their milk while limits were being put on consumers at the retail level, Farm Bureau jumped in and teamed up with the American Dairy Association Mideast to work with grocery stores directly to address the issue. As a result, limits are now being lifted.
“Our team’s efforts were quick and effective as we worked with our members on a major pain point for dairy and changed the issue rapidly,” said Adam Sharp, executive vice president of Ohio Farm Bureau. “The grocers and retailers understood our concerns and what they needed to do to help and we appreciate their willingness to work with us.”
The lifting of milk limits by grocers doesn’t solve all of the issues the dairy sector is facing. That is why Ohio Farm Bureau worked with the American Farm Bureau Federation in an outreach effort to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, suggesting how to best implement funding allocated for agriculture in the recently passed CARES Act stimulus package.
“Dairy and milk prices have declined sharply in recent weeks and farm-level milk prices are likely to be even lower due to price re-blending to account for distressed and disposed loads of milk,” AFBF wrote in a letter to Perdue. “We urge USDA to examine every possible way to support the sector.”
Among the recommendations made in the letter, AFBF asked USDA to consider:
- Crafting a special direct payment to dairy farmers, noting a direct payment at least equivalent to the financial support provided by the Dairy Margin Coverage program would provide immediate financial support to dairy farmers;
- To offset the decline in demand in the food service and school meal sectors, USDA should immediately make purchases of dairy products including but not limited to fluid milk, butter, cheeses and dry milk powders. Additional support could be provided through export assistance programs and direct commodity support;
- The creation of a voucher program through the Milk Donation program to facilitate the distribution of donated milk through grocery stores and other venues since some food banks are not geared for highly perishable products;
- Consider activating a milk loss program similar to the 2019 Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity and Milk Loss (WHIP-ML) Program to indemnify eligible dairy operations for milk that was dumped or removed without compensation from the commercial milk market due to COVID-19;
- Ensure that any milk disposed of or dumped counts toward a Dairy Revenue Protection policy holder’s total milk marketing.
The letter didn’t stop with the dairy industry. It stated:
“All sectors of agriculture must be included under CARES coverage as implemented by USDA. Specialty crops, livestock and others are highlighted in the special $9.5 billion authority vested with the Secretary, while the replenishment of CCC authority should also provide broad authority to assist other segments of agriculture. It is critical that USDA do all in its power to assist growers in every region, of all commodities, to the maximum of its ability.”
The letter also stressed the importance of maintaining the health of America’s agriculture workforce and continuity of the nation’s food supply chain, both domestically and with valuable trading partners.
“Our outreach to USDA shows just how important every sector of food production is to Ohio and our country as a whole,” said Jack Irvin, senior director of state and national policy with Ohio Farm Bureau. “There is no doubt a long road ahead, but Farm Bureau will continue to be a strong voice as we navigate through this crisis and the uncertainty that comes along with it.”
Irvin encourages members to share their concerns with Ohio Farm Bureau, as well as their congressional representatives, to help shed light on every part of Ohio agriculture that is being impacted.