Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Why American farmers are throwing out tons of milk

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In South Florida, the cars stretched out for nearly two miles, as thousands of people waited

for hours to reach their local food bank.

The same thing happened in California, Pennsylvania, and New York City.

Food banks across the US are seeing a massive rise in the number of residents in need because

of the coronavirus.

But on American farms, the economic fallout from the coronavirus looks very different.

Here it has led to a widespread surplus of food that's gone to waste.

Millions of pounds of perfectly good potatoes, cucumbers and squash left to rot or plowed

back into the fields.

And dairy farmers forced to dump millions of gallons of fresh milk down the drain.

Its 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.

Were the farmers out here. Were all in this together

and if something dont change soon were going down.

To understand why the food supply chain is broken lets look at milk.

A very simplified supply chain for dairy products in the US looks something like this.

It starts with cows. And a dairy farm where theyre milked.

That milk is filled into tanks and then sent to processors.

There it turns into products like pasteurized fluid milk, cheese, yogurt, or butter.

Its then packaged and sent off to grocery stores where consumers can get their dairy off the shelves.

But here's the thing, even though a large portion of dairy production is aimed at grocery stores,

it's 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 goes through hundreds of thousands of gallons of milk every day.

Together, all of these avenues amount to a huge amount of milk production in the US

about 218 billion pounds in 2019.

Every part of dairy production, from farming to processing and packaging, carries out a specialized process

which makes the supply chain efficient under normal circumstances.

But as the coronavirus started to spread, and the nation began to shut down,

this chain started to look a lot different.

Schools and restaurants canceled orders,

but the cows at the farm still needed to be milked.

A significant drop in demand from these avenues led to way more supply

but there's nowhere to send that surplus.

Even though more people have been buying dairy at grocery stores during lockdown,

the system isn't built to redirect excess supply that easily.

We want to get food to the people who need it,

and we're trying but

when you have a really specialized industry, it doesn't necessarily translate.

Thats because the same dairy products meant for schools, businesses, and grocery stores,

look very different after theyre 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 food service companies to make lunches.

At a restaurant the products might be large 5-gallon containers of milk, or 40-pound blocks of cheese.

And at grocery storestheyre the products were more used to seeing,

like single gallon cartons of milk, and small packages of cheese.

Converting those school milk cartons into something people will actually buy at grocery stores,

would be a massive change.

Facilities often dont have the right packaging to make a switch.

While other products, like a large block of cheese

would need to be cut to a more manageable size for consumers

meaning millions of dollars in new equipment that many processors cant afford.

You can't deliver a five hundred pound barrel to someone's house and be like here's your cheese.

I mean, you have entire plants built for school milk for kids.

We could have just sent crates of milk home with parents like here's your crates from the school.

Just feed your kid. Where are they going to store it in their fridges?

What we have from restaurants and food service just doesn't neatly turns 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 product to food banks, but these organizations often

dont have the fridge capacity, or the manpower needed to distribute so much perishable product.

And even with shifts in some production from businesses and schools to grocery stores,

the new consumer demand likely wouldnt make up for the huge losses from these other avenues.

That extra supply leads to an incredible amount of food waste.

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 out on the interstate, that, hundreds of trucks that size.

When you don't have that food getting to people, that's crushing.

This food supply chain problem led to a massive drop in milk prices

which started to tumble just as the coronavirus took hold in the US.

Decembers milk was 24 bucks.

Today its 10.80. I dont care if youre milking 10 cows or 5,000. It dont matter.

10 dollars and 80 cents is not going to pay the bills.

My organic milk is very expensive. It's expensive to make, it's expensive to market.

What happens to my milk is it gets marketed as conventional milk.

Which is basically about half of what I get paid.

It doesn't take much of a math scientist to figure out that you're really in trouble.

That drop is just the latest in several years of record-low prices for the dairy industry.

Since 2015, milk prices paid to farmers have been well below the cost of production.

Factors like rise in corporate farming,

trade wars that decreased US exports,

and more people choosing milk alternatives,

have led to too much dairy, and low prices.

Its also led to a dairy farming crisis. In 2014, there were about 45,000 dairy farms in the US.

But over the next 5 years, 11,000 dairy farms shut down.

Thats nine US dairy farms lost every day during that period.

That number is likely to increase even more because of coronavirus.

Today, many dairy cooperatives, often made up of hundreds of different farms, are taking this hit together,

by sharing the burden and making sure not every farm has to dump their milk.

Many have enacted quotas to keep production at a level thats more in line with what they predict can be sold.

Some are suggesting farmers sell off cows,

and others are incentivizing farmers to leave their businesses entirely.

We have to cut back 10% of our milk. We are selling cows,

were drying out cows early.

Were trying to do whatever we can now to drop our production 10% but its going to be tough.

The US government has allocated payouts for farmers to cover some of these losses.

And they've set aside money for government purchases of dairy and other fresh produce for food banks.

These provisions could be one way to tackle both the hardships of farmers,

and the growing hunger crisis that affects millions of Americans.

But while it may be a good first step, many in the industry warn that it could disproportionately

help large corporate farms, and fall short of getting small farmers the help they need immediately.

As those things run out, who knows what's going to happen.

And that's the uncertainty that I feel and I think most other people feel it.

We need to have a better plan.

The unprecedented amount of extra milk has forced

some farmers and processors to think about other solutions, too.

Like lobbying pizza chains to put more cheese on pizzas.

Or, lobbying for a more controversial long term solution,

like setting federal limits on the amount of milk production across the country,

so that the supply and the prices will always be stable.

We need some help out here, how were going to get it I dont know,

but if we dont get it were all in big trouble.

Whats happening with this supply chain in the US isnt just a problem for dairy.

Its a problem for farmers across the country

who have seen their demands diminish from schools and restaurants.

And whether its milk, or green beans,

for farmers, trashing their produce isnt just a financial blow.

Its also an emotional one.

We work so hard to provide for other people.

That's what our calling is. That's why we do this. We're not doing it for the money, that's for sure.

And so to see what we provide go to waste

has just been really devastating.

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