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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Top Stories > Agriculture

COVID pandemic causes dumping of local farmers' milk

Apr 6, 2020

By Kathy Daley - reporter/photographer

Rich and Maryann Dirie operate their dairy farm on Shandelee Road. Rich Dirie notes the Dairy Farmers of America cooperative is still picking up their milk even though some of it ends up dumped due to a variety of issues created by coronavirus.
SULLIVAN — Cartons of milk are flying off store shelves along with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and dairywoman Maryann Dirie can't figure out the latest: farmers are seeing their milk dumped before it gets to market.
“People are hungry, the children, the homeless, and our milk is getting thrown out?” said Dirie, who farms with husband Rich at their spread on Shandelee Road in Livingston Manor.
The Diries and other Sullivan County farms that belong to the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) cooperative are being told that workers at milk processing plants are turning up positive for coronavirus. The plants must then be shut down and fully sanitized.
“It's happening at a number of our (milk) plants in the Northeast corridor,” said farmer Will Hughson of Swiss Hill Road North in Jeffersonville. He also belongs to the DFA.
“Eleven plants have shut down.”
“Then,” Hughson added, “the milk is (further) backed up with the schools closed. There is more milk than the companies can get rid of.”
With the abrupt closing of another large institutional buyer of dairy products - restaurants - and with truckers calling in sick or afraid of contracting the virus, farmers are experiencing the heartbreak of seeing or learning that their milk can't be marketed.
On Friday, the trucker picking up Hughson's milk asked if he could dump two loads of it into Hughson's manure tank. Hughson gave him the go-ahead.
“Two loads is thousands of gallons of milk,” said Hughson ruefully. “What can you do? And then, someone tells me that Dollar General is out of milk.”
Alice Diehl of Diehl's Homestead Farm in Callicoon said they are aware that one of their loads from last week got dumped. Adam Diehl, Alice's son who runs the farm, said it's likely that three or four more loads of milk probably went the same way earlier.
Along with five other farms that struggled to find a market for their milk two years ago, the Diehls now sell through the National Farmers Organization (NFO). Their milk was being trucked to Walton, but the plant closed a month ago. Now the milk is hauled into Connecticut.
So far, farmers are still getting paid for their milk regardless of its destination, but they worry how long that will continue. The irony is that they were beginning to see slightly higher prices for their milk lately.
Maryann Dirie said they just learned that their paychecks would reflect less, that is, their milk prices were being cut.
“So they are dumping our milk and then giving us less money for the rest of it,” she said. “It's crazy.”

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