June 3, 2020 10:45:38 AM
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many tough sights have come our way via national news and social media. One of them is footage of thousands of gallons of milk being pumped out onto the ground. June is National Dairy Month, but the dairy industry -- and produce farmers in general -- have been hard-hit by a coronavirus that gutted demand. Closures of schools and a hammered hospitality industry abruptly left dairy farmers with a limited market. But even when consumption dries up, cows still need milking -- even if there is nowhere for that milk to go but down the drain.
COVID-19 has heaped pressure on Mississippi dairy farmers who were already under strain, especially smaller family farms, said Amanda Stone. She is an assistant professor and Extension Service dairy specialist with Mississippi State University.
"It's difficult to see if the dairy industry will continue as we know it," said Stone. Dairy products are important to nutritious and balanced diets, she continued, so the industry will be with us, but perhaps concentrated in larger operations. The specialist said there are no longer any commercial dairy operations in the counties of the Golden Triangle.
All this, even as food banks struggle to meet soaring demand from people out of work. Thankfully, through different government and private efforts, some farmers have been able to team up with regional food banks to channel excess dairy products to where they are needed most. It's anticipated USDA will channel some CARES Act funds to assist farmers with perishable products, according to Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson in an April 24 MPB story. It helps, too, that some producers have been able to partner with co-ops to sell milk. None of it is a replacement for a thriving market but may help protect farms from complete loss of income.
Mississippi State's dairy herds' milk is used within the university system to produce MSU's cheeses, ice cream and related items. Those products can be stored, unlike most farms' fluid milk normally sold to the national school lunch program and the hospitality industry. As some demand slowly picks up, markets should regain some ground. Whether it is in time for fourth- and fifth-generation family farms to survive isn't yet known.
"Summer is a notoriously bad time for dairy anyway because schools aren't open," Stone said. "I hope in the fall that it starts to increase and the government programs are going to put a band-aid on it until then to get people through, until fall at least."
How long might a recovery take? That's the multi-million dollar question, said Stone.
"There are so any variables. It's a lifestyle, but at the end of the day, it has to be run like a business. It depends not only on the farmer's business, but also on what is happening politically and on exports and tariffs." Many factors are out of the producer's control, often putting the farmer "between a rock and a hard place," said the dairy specialist. And then there was COVID-19.
How might consumers help dairy farmers outlast the pandemic's effects? We can remind ourselves dairy products can be go-tos for nutrients from calcium to potassium to protein. Milk, cheese, yogurts and even ice cream provide fuels for bones, muscles and heart. There are low-fat versions of each. Use shredded low-fat cheese to top casseroles, potatoes or veggies, suggests MSU Extension. Add cottage cheese to cut-up fruit like peaches or strawberries. Enjoy pudding with fat-free milk or snack on string cheese instead of chips.
Foodprint.org recommends using milk for soaking, poaching and braising chicken, fish or pork to tenderize. Add a cup of milk to simmering meat sauces, such as Bolognese. Make soups; chowders often get their creaminess from milk, thickened with flour or corn starch to keep it from separating. Milk-based sauces like bechamel and mornay are recipes to use over and over again. Use up extra milk by making bread pudding. Toss in fruit that needs to be used up, too. And, try out one of today's recipes; each one makes use of at least one dairy ingredient.
As farmers try to weather this season of hardship, every household can do a little something for the "demand" side of the equation.
FIESTA TACO PIZZA
1 pound lean ground beef
2 tablespoons store-bought taco seasoning
1 13.8-ounce package refrigerated pizza dough
1 16-ounce can fat-free refried beans
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 Roma tomatoes, cut into thin slices
1/4 cup black olives, cut into slices
4 green onions, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup corn kernels
(Source: MSU Extension Service/happyhealthy.extension.msstate.edu)
MILK-BRAISED PORK ROAST
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3-4 pound boneless pork shoulder
1 quart milk
3 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
4-6 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
(Source: foodprint.org/Sherri Brooks Vinton)
POWER MAC AND CHEESE
2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded,
2 cups broccoli, cooked and chopped in small pieces
(Source: aces.edu/Alabama A&M & Auburn University Extension)
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.