GALT — With schools across the state closed and many restaurants switching to takeout and curb-side pickup due to the coronavirus pandemic, dairy farmers cross California are urging residents to continue to “buy local” in an effort to keep local farms up and running, and to avoid dumping any unsold or unused milk.
At a press conference held at New Hope Dairy in Galt on Wednesday, owner Arlin Van Groningen was joined by Western United Dairies chief executive officer Anja Raudabaugh and Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, to let the community know that farmers are now trying to shift their product distribution from schools and restaurants to grocery stores in order to remain in business.
“The milk supply is not in short demand,” Van Groningen said. “We’re just a little forced up on the conveyance on how it gets from point A to point B. With schools being out, and restaurants being shut down, it’s a little difficult for us to get our product from here to supermarket shelves where you are buying groceries.”
Van Groningen is a third generation farmer, who has operated the New Hope Dairy at 9551 New Hope Road in Galt for the last 16 years. The dairy employs 14 employees and manages 1,250 cows that produce 12,500 gallons of milk a day.
In addition to California schools and restaurants closing, trucking companies that transport milk are laying off drivers, and the overseas dairy markets have stalled due to shipping issues at the ports. All these factors have Van Groningen and the some 450 dairy farmers in the California Dairies, Inc. co-op wondering how their milk will be consumed.
“All the milk we produce goes into the co-op,” he said. “Since it’s not going to the schools or restaurants now, they’re making butter out of it. There’s a high demand for butter right now, and it has a longer shelf-life. If we can help it, not one drop of the milk we produce will be poured down the drain.”
According to the California Milk Advisory Board, dairy farmers across the state produced 39.8 billion pounds of milk in 2017, or roughly more than 4.6 billion gallons.
Raudabaugh said 50% of the milk dairy farmers produce each year is used to make cheese. Of that, 30% is exported and the remainder is purchased locally.
Of the 50% earmarked for milk production, roughly 27% is sent to schools and restaurants. The remainder is sold as milk, butter and other dairy products, she said.
On the milk side, she said dairy farmers must now look to butter, milk for ice cream, and powder as alternatives to make sure the milk they produce does not go to waste.
Raudabaugh said consumers should look for the “Real California Dairy” seal on products, as that will guarantee that what they are buying — milk, cheese or butter — was produced within 50 miles of their local grocery store.
She said because so many students are now at home, the dairy industry wants to make sure those youngsters who were drinking milk at school can still be able to do so.
However, with many grocery stores limiting customers to two of each item in order to prevent hoarding, it’s causing more people to make multiple food-shopping trips, which is not what Gov. Gavin Newsom wanted residents to do during his shelter-in-place order.
“One of the bigger challenges we have at the consumer level and the grocery stores is this purchase limit on dairy products,” she said. “That’s got to be lifted in every situation possible. We want to make sure we really follow the governor’s direction here and that we’re going to the grocery store as little as possible, and in order to do that (consumers) need to buy as much as they think they need to feed their families.”
Cooper said California’s agriculture industry employs about 180,000 people and is valued at $50 billion a year. He said the dairy industry’s economic value is about $20 billion annually.
He said small businesses like New Hope Dairy are impacted the most by the economic downturn, and the community can help them stay afloat by purchasing their products.
“It is always vital that we buy local, and it’s especially important during these unprecedented times,” he said. “We need to keep our local farmers strong so they can ride out the crisis.”
Van Groningen said just because schools and restaurants are closing down, doesn’t mean dairies are stopping production.
“One thing people don’t have to worry about is the supply of milk in the state,” he said. “We, as dairy farmers, are getting it done and we have to feed our cows, and we’ll continue to feed our cows. I think the food supply in California is safe, it’s abundant. Just continue to go to restaurants via drive-through or pick-up, and continue to shop local at your grocery stores.”