The nonprofit Hunger Task Force says it will commit up to $1 million to a newly created Wisconsin Dairy Recovery Program aimed at helping farmers and food pantries.
Under the program, farmers will be paid to supply milk to Kemps, a dairy cooperative based in Minnesota, which will process the milk at its plant in Cedarburg.
Hunger Task Force will distribute the milk and dairy products to food banks and pantries through the Hunger Relief Federation of Wisconsin.
Wisconsin’s $45.6 billion dairy industry is dealing with a sudden loss of business in schools and restaurants that account for nearly half the market. At the same time, food pantries are strapped to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their jobs in coronavirus shutdowns.
Hunger Task Force, which serves 50,000 people a month, 40% of whom are children, has partnered with the state Agriculture Department and Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin in the new program funded by donations.
“In order to keep Wisconsin’s food supply chain moving and support our farmers, we have to work together,” Randy Romanski, interim state Agriculture Secretary, said in a statement.
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. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
With more than 75% of the nation’s restaurants closed as a result of the pandemic, dairy farmers and processors have been hit especially hard with the loss of markets, according to Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, a nonprofit funded by farmers.
Kemps will start processing milk purchased under the new program this week.
“This is an important partnership for our dairy farmers who, through no fault of their own, are faced with incredible challenges to keep product moving through our system,” Chad Vincent, chief executive officer of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, said in a statement.
“Keeping our farms as stable as possible is absolutely critical to the economic health of the communities where they live … and ultimately to the state’s economy,” Vincent said.
Hunger Task Force provides emergency food to a network of food pantries and homeless shelters. Founded in 1974 by a group of parent advocates who were fighting for a school breakfast program in Milwaukee, the organization says it is the only food bank in Milwaukee that does not charge for food, delivery or network membership.
Other efforts are also underway to get dairy products to food pantries that desperately need them as millions of Americans lose their jobs. Milk bottlers, cheese plants, even an individual milk truck driver from Ellsworth, have connected with charities to donate processed dairy products.
Before the pandemic, Sassy Cow Creamery, of Columbus, was on track to provide 70,000 gallons of milk this year to Second Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin through its Adopt A Cow program.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will spend up to $15.5 billion in the initial phase of its plan to bolster the nation’s food supply against the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the news agency Reuters reported Tuesday, citing three sources familiar with the matter.
The initial plan will include direct payments to farmers and ranchers, along with other support measures, using a portion of the $23.5 billion approved by Congress to support agriculture in a coronavirus stimulus bill last month, according to the sources.
Wholesale milk prices could be depressed for months, putting further pressure on farmers as they head into spring planting. In 2019, Wisconsin lost more than 800 dairy farms, a rate of more than two a day, many of them small family-run operations.
Some dairy farms have been forced to dump thousands of gallons of milk a day because processing plants are full and can’t accept any more of the highly perishable product.
“We are facing the complete restructuring of the dairy industry,” 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.
Donations to the new Hunger Task Force dairy program can be made online at www.HungerTaskForce.org/dairy.
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