A CLOSER LOOK: COVID-19’s impact on local dairy & food farmers

A Closer Look

It's a 48-hour turn-around time from farm to store for milk

ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — The new coronavirus pandemic has highs and lows for dairy and food farmers in Arkansas.

The upside is that dairy farmers are selling milk. Downside? It’s at a lower price.

“Our [dairy] farmers are going to get paid, they’ll just be paid less,” said Arkansas Farm Bureau Commodity Coordinator Bruce Tencleve.

A few weeks ago dairy farmers in Arkansas were getting $19 per 100 weight of milk sold, now they are at about $14 to $15.

“The next few months does not look promising for farmers regarding price and what they’re going to get for the product,” said Tencleve. “This is what the new coronavirus has brought.”

It’s the same for the poultry farmers, “they are taking a hit,” said Tencleve. “It’s something that no one could have predicted [COVID-19].”

Another upside? Arkansas dairy farmers haven’t had to “dump” any milk, unlike Georgia, Vermont, Tennessee and Minnesota.

“Milk dumping” is when there’s an overabundance of product and it’s tossed because there is no need for it.

The shutdown of restaurants, schools, coffee shops because of the new coronavirus is what’s caused the dumping of raw/unpasteurized product in some states.

On April 1, agencies that represent dairy farmers and co-ops in the Midwest wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue [read here] “to use the extensive purchasing power afforded it via the CARES Act to bring much-needed relief to the stressed American dairy industry.”

Farmers in milk dumping states have been asked to keep records and report to the state of disposed amounts in case federal assistance is made available down the road.

Tencleve hopes [milk] dumping doesn’t happen in Arkansas.

The product goes from the farmer to the processor and then it’s moved to the co-op. It’s the co-op that finds a “home” for the milk. [through the processors].

In Arkansas, as in other states, restaurants are the biggest downfall. This is where you see reduction in the use of milk. “Pizza places not cooking with milk, many restaurants aren’t even open,” said Tencleve.

Overall, Tencleve’s message to the public, in an effort to help dairy farmers is to drink more milk. “I’m not against soda, but if kids drink more milk, and we work with the state to get schools to offer milk,” that’s a good thing … but sometimes it’s hard to get the foot in the door.”

ARKANSAS FARM BUREAU DAIRY FACTS

  • Arkansas has around 40 licensed dairy herds.
  • The dairy farming industry in Arkansas is the 46th largest milk-producing state in the United States.
  • Milk production on Arkansas dairy farms yielded approximately 8 million gallons of milk in 2018.
  • Arkansas farms generate approx. $18 million in milk sales.
  • In Arkansas, the average dairy cow produces about 4.7 gallons of milk per day. That’s more than 1,715 gallons of milk over the course of a typical year.
  • There are 3 plants that process 1 or more dairy products in Arkansas.
  • Ten pounds of milk makes 1 pound of cheese.
  • About 10.3% of all milk produced by U.S. dairy farmers is used to produce ice cream.

ARKANSAS DAIRY FARMING, ONE COMPANY’S HISTORY

The oldest dairy farm in Arkansas is Coleman Dairy. The company started in 1860 and now is a division of Hiland Dairy — the Coleman name was replaced with Hiland in 2013. Hiland Dairy Foods was founded in 1938.

Hiland is affiliated with the below organizations:

Hiland Dairy’s COVID-19 statement:

At Hiland Dairy, we value the trust you place in us and our products. The CDC and FD have indicated
that the coronavirus spread is not related to food. However, we care deeply about the consumers and
communities we serve and want to be upfront about the steps we’re taking in response to coronavirus.
We are following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as the
World Health Organization on protocols for maintaining clean and healthy environments in our
processing facilities and transportation to grocers and retailers.
While our processing facilities are always held to an extreme standard of cleanliness to ensure food
safety, we are doubling down on sanitization protocols. Hiland Dairy employees are following strict
guidelines on these protocols, as well as self-monitoring for any symptoms of the virus.
We are doing our best to keep up with increasing demands as individuals and families prepare for selfquarantine. We do not foresee any issue with supply and endeavor to keep shelves stocked during this
time.

FOOD FARMERS IN ARKANSAS

Jeff Edwards has been farming in the Sherrill-Pastoria community near Pine Bluff for most of his life. Like others in the Arkansas River Valley, he lost cropland to the historic flooding in 2019. He and his family have weathered challenges like this before, though, and Jeff plans to continue farming until, “the Lord calls him home.” 
Farm-to-table is the foodie rage and, in Hot Springs, there’s an example of this trend that highlights how mutually beneficial the relationship between local farms and restaurants can be. In a unique relationship, JV Farms Homestead in Bismarck takes waste brewers grains from Superior Bathhouse Brewery in Hot Springs National Park, feed their hogs with it, then sells the pork meat back to the brewery where it’s made into sausage for the brewery restaurant.
Peanut production has become more common in Arkansas. Tommy Jumper and his vertically integrated business model at Delta Peanut LLC, cotton farmers in Lee and St. Francis counties have been adding peanuts to their rotation and harvesting better-than-expected yields. Jumper talked to us about his business and how he believes that the state will become a “major player” in the U.S. peanut industry when Arkansas’ first shelling facility begins operation near Jonesboro in 2020.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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