There are few things worse for a dairy farmer than seeing fresh milk literally poured down the drain.

That’s why, from the early weeks of the pandemic until now, thousands of organizations around the country began campaigns to get that excess milk processed and delivered to people who need it. The action and demand have been remarkable.

On April 17, USDA announced they would exercise authority to purchase excess agricultural products to distribute to those in need. We now know that the Farmers to Families Food Box Program will purchase $317 million in dairy products to include in food boxes distributed through food banks and nonprofit organizations across the country between May 15 and June 30.

It’s a triple win
Michael Dykes, CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), describes the food boxes as a win-win-win situation. “It is a win for those dairy farmers because your milk is being bought, and it’s being processed. Those processors are employing people who are continuing to make products, and then it is going to the families who need it most,” he said.

Dykes made those comments with firsthand experience, joining the May 27 DairyLivestream after assisting USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue with a Farmers to Families Food Box donation event in Pennsylvania.

This giveaway was one of the first mass distributions of the program, sending boxes of dairy and produce home with 1,000 cars at the county fairgrounds. Dykes described that the dairy products provided were sourced from a local processor and included fluid milk, cottage cheese, Swiss cheese, and cheese curds.

A home for ag products
The program will also purchase meat and produce to include in delivered boxes. USDA has promised a total of $3 billion to agricultural purchases, and on May 8 approved $1.2 billion for the first round of contracts to be spent through June 30. If need continues after the end of June, $1.8 billion remains in the pot for use.

Dairy’s portion of that first installment comes to $317 million of consumer-sized products purchased from processing plants around the country.

“From the time the bids were starting to be accepted until the grants were awarded was one week,” Dykes said.

The program was designed as an efficient use of resources. This not only means excess milk but also the food safety and refrigeration infrastructure across the country that had been sitting idle for months, Dykes said. IDFA had been encouraging USDA to think creatively about how to best use these assets while meeting a need for American families as well as preventing inflated stock that would drive down future prices.

Dykes also stressed that any nonprofit organization with a tax-exempt identification can receive food boxes to distribute, not just food banks.

The program certainly helps fill a need, and Dykes applauded the joint effort of agricultural industries to solve this problem. “All of us in dairy can feel good about what we are doing because we are doing good things for people.”

An ongoing series of events
In June, DairyLivestream will begin airing twice each month for the remainder of this year. The next broadcast will be on Wednesday, June 10 at 11 a.m. CST. Each episode is designed for panelists to answer over 30 minutes of audience questions. If you haven’t joined a DairyLivestream broadcast yet, register here. Registering once registers you for all future events.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2020
June 1, 2020
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