Aside from taking extra safety precautions, due to the coronavirus outbreak, it’s business as usual for area dairy farmers.
“We’re following COVID-19 rules,” said Chuck Ripp, of Ripp’s Dairy Valley in Dane. “The industry has been great about sending out forms in English and Spanish. Half of our workers are Latino.”
Practicing social distancing is challenging, said Ripp. That’s especially true in the milking parlor. There’s a 5-foot radius kept between milkers, but it’s a close environment. Ripp said workers are in constant communication with each other to avoid touching. Maintaining proper hygiene is always important, he added, even without the coronavirus.
Anybody who is coughing or sneezing is removed from the area.
“But, we haven’t seen anything yet,” said Ripp.
On the business side of things, Ripp said buyers are “still coming to get milk.” He explained that a couple of milk company buyers have brought his farm notices to keep limits where they’re at. Ripp said they don’t want overproduction.
Ripp said milk production is usually high this time of year. Ripp’s Dairy Valley, which has 13 employees, sells its milk to Grande Cheese Company, which has locations all over Wisconsin.
According to Ripp, there is plenty of product in storage, even if stores are out.
“Getting it shipped to stores is where we’re struggling,” said Ripp.
Wade Kessenich is a dairy farmer in the DeForest area. He said the suppression of foreign markets has been difficult to watch, but his farm is doing as well as most farmers'.
Social distancing has led to decreased interpersonal interaction, Kessenich said.
“The biggest thing is with farm deliveries, when you go to pick up parts at a dealership, there’s a lot less face-to-face contact,” said Kessenich. That was where Kessenich used to run into neighbors and catch up with them. That doesn’t happen now, Kessenich said.
On the Kessenich farm, it’s mostly family doing the work, along with four hired employees. Everyone is still working, but close proximity is limited, said Kessenich. They are also limiting outside contact and exposure.
As always, Kessenich said, caring for the cows is the top priority.
“You take care of the cows, they take care of the family,” said Kessenich.
Ripp said farmers are just getting busy with field work.
“We have to continue the business, continue doing the best we can,” said Ripp.
Milking and taking care of the cows is top of mind for the farmers at Ripp’s Dairy Valley, but they are keeping tabs on the markets. Ripp said milk futures had dropped in the last three days and that is worrying. If that trend continues, Ripp thinks it could get tough on the farm three months from now.
The National Milk Producers Federation is grateful for President Trump’s recent signing of coronavirus legislation, or CARES Act.
On Friday, March 27, NMFP President and CEO Jim Mulhern said in a statement, “It will provide much-needed help to dairy producers, who are experiencing steep drops in milk and dairy-product prices due to the COVID-19 epidemic.”
Mulhern added, “With the CARES Act now law, we look forward to working with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on several important initiatives, including the need for a significant purchase of multiple diary products. These efforts will be important to address sales lost because of COVID-19, lift farm milk prices and send a critical signal to disrupted dairy markets. Government dairy-product purchases will provide our food banks with an important, nutritious and popular staple item that will help feed families in need.”
Communication between farmers has been impacted by COVID-19. Ripp said a lot of meetings have been canceled recently.
Other than that, the cows are milked every day, just like normal. That goes on no matter what. And Ripp said if it gets to the point where the milk has to be dumped down the drain, that’s what they’ll have to do.
For now, Kessenich said, “Keep enjoying dairy, keep enjoying your ice cream.”