BOISE, Idaho — Update: On April 14, Idaho Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, along with 13 other senators signed a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting assistance to the dairy industry, using the CARES Act "to provide stability for the dairy industry and to prevent a collapse in farm milk prices."
The coronavirus pandemic has already taken a major toll on industry and business. With stay-at-home orders in effect for several weeks, business leaders are scrambling.
With that in mind, a KTVB viewer posed the question, “Is it true that dairy farmers are disposing of their milk due to the national virus?”
To find an answer to that question, and to get a look at the state of the Idaho dairy industry right now, we checked in with Rick Naerebout, CEO of the Idaho Dairymen's Association.
"The dairymen are really struggling at this point; we've seen a significant drop in milk prices over the last few weeks," Naerebout said. "We are now in the same territory that we saw during the 2009 recession. Right now, when we look at the value of cheese, butter, dry milk and fluid milk, on the cash trading basis, they're near all-time lows right now.
"We looked at 2020 months ago as being a recovery for dairymen," Naerebout added. "We're coming off four years of not dire financial situations like we're in now, but it's been a four-year struggle to now looking at record-low milk prices and record losses."
Naerebout says a major issue for local dairy farms is who they sell to. A lot of dairies sell to restaurants, which is an issue, because most restaurants have scaled down their services during the pandemic.
“That's resulting in a very significant oversupply to the market right now,” Naerebout said.
And some Idaho dairy producers are having to dump their product as a result of having too much on hand.
"We are starting to see that in Idaho, over the weekend we started to see dairies having to dump milk at the farm level," he said. "Just because there wasn't demand for it. There was no place to sell it."
So, with business down, milk literally down the drain, and products at record-low prices, dairy operations are doing the same thing as other industries - getting SBA loans to keep them afloat and taking advantage of the recent CARES act.
Naerebout says the national Dairy groups are also looking for high level help from the federal government.
“They are in talks with USDA right now, and have put a proposal forward, to try and have USDA support the industry, and through a variety of ways,” Naerebout said.
A little good news for dairy farmers - dairy prices were slightly up Tuesday because of the possible help from the USDA at a local level, though Naerebout says Idahoans can help some too.
“Really the best way they can help out is just figure out ways to include dairy in what you're cooking at home," he said. "Find those recipes that use cheese and butter and cream and start to cook with some more of those recipes so that we help to offset that loss of demand."
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