California Dairy Matching Food Bank Needs

The coronavirus has had a devastating impact on California’s dairy industry as demand in restaurants and foreign markets has dried up, but it’s where milk is now needed most that’s causing farmers to scramble and reroute the supply chain.

The product requested most by suddenly in-demand food banks is fluid milk.

California dairy farmers have a lot of it right now because restaurants are in most cases no longer buying dairy and the export market has practically vanished. As KCBS Radio has previously reported, local demand is very high, but suppliers have struggled to keep up with retail demand.

Now, the state’s dairy farmers are rapidly retooling the dairy supply chain in an effort to meet retail needs and send extra product directly to food banks.

"We have made a lot of adjustments just in the last 72 hours, where I think we’re actually going to be able to have a processor down south to strictly process fluid milk for food bank donations," Western United Dairies CEO Anja Raudabaugh said. "That’s taking a lot of our focus in California because the need is so great."

Western United Dairies represents many California dairy farmers.

Dairyman Frank Faria produces milk from a cow before applying a suction device at the Faria Dairy Farm June 3, 2009 in Escalon, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Raudabaugh told KCBS Radio many dairy farmers are operating close to bankruptcy right now, and in some cases they are being forced to cull dairy cows to reduce costs.

"Cows that are otherwise normally milking have to be cut," Raudabaugh said. "So, (the farmers have) done that the last 10 days. That’s how we’ve rapidly constricted our supply-demand imbalance, is by cutting cows."

The beef market has also crashed along with the milk market as a result.