A Wisconsin cheesemaker is among businesses giving dairy farmers that are reeling from a tumble in the price of milk an economic lifeline during this pandemic.
“We acknowledge we’ve been lucky, our team’s done a great job,” Reeseville-based Specialty Cheese Company General Manager David Scharfman says. Scharfman says his spike in sales provides a market for area dairy farmers. “The coronavirus has increased the demand for Amazon sales, for our e-commerce, shelf-stable cheese product.”
Specialty Cheese Co. is a traditional cheesemaker, but Scharfman says its baked, cheese snack, Just The Cheese, has sold well since its introduction two years ago and is challenging the firm to keep up with its purchase orders now. With the demand, dairy farmers losing customers as the result of COVID-19-caused closures of schools, restaurants and other foodservice have Specialty as a safety valve.
“I wouldn’t be as arrogant to say they’ve turned to us specifically, but there is definitely an increased reliance on cheese producers and manufacturers to be a constant customer for those farmers,” he says.
Bob Schwandt is a long time dairy farmer in Juneau and says the milk price tumble is difficult to absorb. “And right now we’re really in a tight squeeze,” Schwandt says.
Schwandt says the cancellation of planned farm auctions destroys most chances to acquire needed, replacement farm equipment at affordable prices. He says the possible cancellations of annual, upcoming farm breakfasts, brunches, and week-long events and the crowds they bring will also hamper the industry.
Schwandt belongs to the farm cooperative, Foremost Farms-USA, and says a recent letter to members urging them to consider dumping milk in order to cope with a collapsing market was difficult for many members.
“We are asking our members to voluntarily reduce your milk production to the best of your ability,” the letter says. “We also need to be prepared for scenarios that would require members to dump milk on member farms,” the letter states.
“It is a sad situation,” Schwandt says of the thought of dumping milk. “There [are] a lot of people going hungry who could use these products.”
“The coronavirus outbreak has caused milk prices to drop down to unprofitable levels this spring, right when we need money to buy supplies for the spring planting season,” dairy farmer John Rettler of Neosho, president of FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative in Madison told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“Since the coronavirus pandemic began, all of that optimism (over increasing milk prices in February) has disappeared,” Rettler said. “Now, farmers are simply looking for ways to ensure their milk continues to get picked up in the coming weeks as the situation continues to play out.”
The $2 trillion economic stimulus package passed by Congress included $14 billion for supporting farm income and crop prices and $9.5 billion for specific producers including dairy and livestock farmers. Yet it’s still unknown how the money would be distributed and how quickly farmers would get it. Schwandt says he’s planning as if his farm operation will not receive the federal emergency help.
Cheese producer Scharfman says about 70% of the company’s milk comes from dairy farms within 30 miles of the processing plant in Reeseville. people.
“We have to do the best we can to help them out however we can,” Scharfman says.