Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), Rosemont, Ill., said its leaders outlined a shift in its business plan in a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue that will help farmers weather the growing challenges they face amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

DMI, which manages the national dairy checkoff on behalf of 35,000 farmers, said it has prioritized work focused on three key areas: schools, hunger, and foodservice and industry partnerships.

“With unprecedented impact on virtually every aspect of the dairy sector — from farm inputs and production and workforce challenges to disruption in transportation, processing, warehousing and marketplace access — DMI and its network of 16 state and regional units have quickly responded to the still deepening business and cultural shifts occurring as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic,” DMI President Barb O’Brien said in the letter.

O’Brien said the checkoff’s mission of building sales and trust on behalf of U.S. dairy farmers and importers will prioritize limiting milk disposal and redirecting supply to serve those in greatest need over the next two months. DMI said details of the effort include:

  • Ensuring access to school meals: By working through the farmer-founded GENYOUth organization, local promotion groups, USDA and technology and food companies such as Domino’s, YUM! Brands and others, the goal is to ensure school children will continue to receive meals. This is critical not only for the health of children but to maintain the 7% of fluid milk that flows through the school channel.
  • GENYOUth created the “For Schools’ Sake — Help Us Feed Our Nation’s Kids!” movement, which so far has generated $3 million in corporate and individual donations. More than 5,000 applications have been submitted by school districts across the country requesting up to $3,000 grants for equipment, packaging and other supplies as school foodservice professionals work tirelessly to feed at-risk children. GENYOUth seeks to raise an additional $12 million to satisfy these requests.
  • Helping food banks meet growing need: DMI is working with cooperatives and companies, quick-serve and foodservice partners and Feeding America to broaden access to dairy foods for the growing number of people facing food insecurity. The checkoff is convening cooperative leaders seeking to find a destination for excess supply with local processors and food banks. This effort already is diverting more than 100,000 gallons of milk per week in Texas, New Mexico, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, New York and New England into the hunger system.
  • Convening partners across supply chain: Working with domestic and international partners to realign the supply of dairy products to those in need while working through U.S. Dairy Export Council to ensure dairy products continue or resume flowing into the critical export market. After more than 10 years of partnership with dairy farmers, Domino’s is working with GENYOUth and local organizations to pilot a grab-and-go meal program at 31 public school sites in Miami. So far, approximately 23,000 meals have been made available and similar opportunities through other franchisees in Michigan and other locations are being explored.

For more information about the dairy checkoff, visit www.usdairy.com.