Published at Civil Eats, April 8, 2020
Long before coronavirus upended everyone’s lives, Pennsylvania dairy farmer Brenda Cochran had been living in near-perpetual crisis. Five years of low milk prices have had the farm operating in the red, the family avoiding calls from creditors, and sometimes struggling to buy groceries. “There has never been a period of worse financial losses and … hopelessness than the past six years,” she said.
The U.S. has been losing dairy farms like the Cochran’s at a rate of nearly nine per day since 2015. Milk prices were expected to rise in 2020 for the first time since then, but the forecasts made a u-turn two weeks ago as the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic began to upend the dairy supply chain. Now, dairy prices are in freefall. Even as grocery stores struggle to keep dairy cases stocked, farmers across the country have begun dumping milk that their processors have no room for. “There’s no one who can sustain this,” said Cochran. “It’s over.”
With dairy farmers’ reserves tapped out, the year that was supposed to be a catch-up is turning into a disaster.
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