Groups representing dairy cooperatives and farmers in the Midwest today urged the federal government to provide direct assistance to farmers and to expedite the purchase of additional dairy foods amid unprecedented disruptions in supply and demand due to the COVID-19 national emergency.

In a letter to USDA, the groups — Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, Cooperative Network, Dairy Business Association, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Farm Bureau and Wisconsin Farmers Union — cited the mass closure of restaurants, schools and other foodservice outlets, decimated export markets and a sharp drop in prices farmers are being paid for their milk.

“Direct relief to dairy farmers and a substantial purchase of dairy commodities by USDA can ensure our industry will remain fiscally able to function in its primary role of feeding the nation and the world,” the groups said.

Dairy processors and farmers are working in cooperation and with open lines of communication, but these circumstances, far beyond their control, are beginning to result in fresh farm milk finding no available market for processing. Commodity dairy prices have plummeted, and will result in milk prices lower than many farms can handle to sustain long-term viability, the groups said.

They urged USDA to consider the different means available to the agency to make farmers whole for the

In pushing for product purchases, the groups specifically asked USDA to focus on nonfat dry milk, butter, cheddar, mozzarella, other Italian styles of cheese and dairy products purposed for use by restaurants and foodservice vendors.

The recently passed CARES Act directs $14 billion to the Commodity Credit Corp., $9.5 billion to a dedicated disaster-relief fund for agriculture, $25 billion for SNAP programs and $450 million to support food banks serving the food insecure, the groups noted.

“Dairy manufacturers have seen their largest market channel — foodservice sales to restaurants, schools, colleges, and destinations — deeply cut in the effort to curb the spread of COVID-19,” the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association said in a published statement. “Sales lost at hundreds of thousands of restaurants and institutions cannot be replaced, and our industry looks to the U.S. government to purchase dairy products to move to food pantries and family feeding programs.”