According to the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, they contribute more than $45 billion to our local economy. While dairy farmers took a big hit in 2020, they’re looking for a major change for 2021.

We all remember the gut-wrenching video of milk dumping in the early months of the pandemic and as the country dealt with the spread of COVID-19 we unintentionally slowed the flow of milk.

Amy Penterman, President of the Dairy Business Association says, “The first half of last year was frightening for a lot of farmers when restaurants and schools closed down the demand for milk cheese and other dairy products just disappeared overnight dairy farmers were all still producing milk but no place for it to go.”

Mark Stephenson, Director of the Center for Dairy Profitability says, “There were several farms that were asked on any given day to pull the plug on the bulk tank simply because the supply chains had broken down and they couldn’t handle all the volume of milk that was coming in as we were all huddling safer at home.”

Dairy farmers are recovering thanks in part to the slow reopening of our state.

Penterman says, “The food supply chain has adjusted and support from the government has also made a big difference. The government bought up a lot of dairy products to distribute to food banks that serve so many people who lost jobs.”

Julie Maurer is a partner at Soaring Eagle Dairy. Her farm has over 1150 cows and produces over 100,000 pounds of milk per day. She says, “The cows still need to be milked, fed, and cared for every day. So every day we’re here at work.”

In 2019, more than 800 Wisconsin dairy farms closed and in 2020 that number slowed.

Stephenson says, “This last year we had that rate of farm attrition slow down a great deal. We had as many as 10 percent of our dairy farms that were being lost compared to the same month a year earlier.”

Maurer says, “After the pandemic and before the pandemic even, dairy strong is this underlying movement in our industry. You know we bond together.”

Those dairy farmers left standing, like Soaring Eagle Dairy, cling to price stability and optimism for 2021.

Maurer says, “Looking back at 2020, we experienced some of our worst milk prices in the last decade as well as some of our strongest. 2021, I think, everybody in our industry would love to see stability rather than having to manage through these huge swings in milk prices. We’re all looking forward to the day that the vaccine is here and available and folks can get back to life as we know it.”

But dairy experts remain cautious about the new year.

Stephenson warns, “2021 is just a really big question mark because very clearly the pandemic isn’t over. We aren’t going back out to restaurants as we did before. Schools across the country are struggling to stay open and facing closures again.”

Penterman says, “We are not out of the woods yet but we are staying optimistic and nobody wants to face what we faced last year ever again.”

Dairy experts tell Local Five that they don’t expect to see a great deal of milk dumping this year even though milk production is fairly high right now.

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