How Food is a problem
South Florida the cars stretched out for nearly two miles, as thousands of people waited for hours to reach their local food banks. The same thing happened in California, Pennsylvania, and New York City. Food banks across the U.S. are seeing a massive rise in the number of residents in need because of the CoronaVirus. However, on American Farms, The economic fallout from the Coronavirus looks very different. It has led to a widespread surplus of food that's gone to waste. Millions of pounds of perfectly good potatoes, cucumbers, and squash are left to rot or plowed back into the fields. Dairy farmers are forced to dump millions of gallons of fresh milk down the drain
. It is all because of a break in the food supply chain. One that, for now, means we have farmers with too much food and very few options. Farmers are suffering about this issue, and if these things do not change soon. It can lead to many problems.
To understand why the food supply chain is broken, let us look at milk. It is a very simplified supply chain for dairy products in the U.S. It starts with cows. Moreover, dairy farms where they are milked. That milk is then filled into tanks and sent to a machine processor. There it turns into products like pasteurized fluid milk, cheese, yogurt, or butter. It is then packaged and sent off to grocery stores where consumers can get their dairy off the shelves. However, even though a large portion of dairy production is aimed at grocery stores, it is just one of many places where the product ends up. About half of all production is aimed at other avenues like schools and businesses. Starbucks for example typically go through hundreds of thousands Of gallons of milk every day.
Together all of these avenues amount in no small amount of milk production in the U.S. about 218 billion pounds in 2019. Every part of dairy production, from farming to processing and packaging out a specialized process which makes the supply chain efficient under normal circumstances. However, as the Corona Virus started to spread, and the nation began to shut down. This chain started to look a lot different. Schools and restaurants canceled orders; however, the Cows on the farm still needed to be milked. A significant drop in demand from these avenues led to way more supply. However, there is nowhere to send the surplus Even though more people have been buying dairy at grocery stores.
Even though more people have been buying dairy at grocery stores during the lockdown, the system isn't built to redirect to reflect excess supply that quickly "we want to get food to the people who need it, and we're trying, but when you have a specialized industry, it doesn't necessarily translate." said by Carrie Messa. Some dairy products meant for schools, businesses, and grocery stores look very different after they are processed and packaged. For example, at grade schools, they might take the shape of small milk cartons made for kids or massive bags of cheese for foodservice companies to make lunches. At a restaurant, the products might be large 5-gallon containers of milk or 40-pound blocks of cheese. At the grocery, stores-they are the products they were more used to seeing like single gallon cartons of milk and small cheese packages.
Converting those milk cartons into something people will buy at grocery stores would be a massive change. Facilities often don't have the right packaging to make a switch. Simultaneously, other products like a large block of cheese would need to be cut out to a more manageable side for consumers meaning millions of dollars in new equipment that many processors could not afford. You can't deliver a five hundred pound barrel to someone's house and be like here's your cheese. You have entire plants built for school milk for kids. Garret Lutherans, a Minnesota dairy farmer, said," We could have just sent milk crates with parents like here are your boxes from the school, feed your kid. Where are they going to store it in their fridge?" We have from restaurants, and food service doesn't turn into something that's usable for the average person at home. We're switching as fast as we can, but this is unprecedented right.
Some are sending their surplus produce to food banks. These organizations often don't have the fridge capacity or the human resources needed to distribute so much perishable product. And even with the shifts in some production from businesses and schools to grocery stores, the new consumer demand wouldn't make up for huge losses from these other avenues. That extra supply leads to an incredible amount of food waste. Joe Statz said, "we started dumping milk March 31st, and we dumped seven semi-loads of milk a day. Which is 42,000 Gallons of milk a day we dumped for about two weeks" When you think about a semi load like the big tanker trucks. You would see it on the interstate, hundreds of vehicles that size. When you don't have that food getting to people, that's crushing. This food supply chain led to a massive drop in milk prices.