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Dairy losses due to winter storms will take time to assess

Progressive Dairy Editor Dave Natzke Published on 19 February 2021

Mother Nature wreaked havoc on dairy producers and processors across the U.S. the week of Feb. 15. Although details are sketchy and losses won’t be assessed for some time, advance reports for the week’s USDA Dairy Market News provide an overview of the impact.

Few areas were affected as much as Texas, where reports of milk dumping were high. Texas Ag Commissioner Sid Miller said dairies were dumping at least $8 million worth of milk per day due to the inability of plants to maintain power. That was causing a ripple effect with grocery stores unable to get shipments of dairy products, creating food supply chain problem never seen before, even with the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The damage is far from over, and it will take a long time before all losses are tallied. Miller said losses for the Texas agricultural community could be in the “millions, if not billions.”

With power outages and staffing shortages, milk and cream loads that could be salvaged were dispersed elsewhere, with some cream reportedly moving north all the way to the Midwest, where butter manufacturers assisted in clearing excess loads.

Monty Dozier, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension program director for disaster assessment and recovery, said he anticipates county emergency boards will get next week to begin assessing the losses as the state begins to apply for federal resource relief.

“We’ve not had a formal request for animal feeding or assistance as of yet, and so far, we’re not hearing of loss of livestock, although we could see some issues within the poultry industry,” Dozier said. “We are hearing there are a lot of problems getting out and gaining access to determine the health of livestock and to get feed resources across the state.”

In New Mexico, milk production was steady and following typical seasonal patterns, but processors in parts of eastern New Mexico contended with the strong winter storms and found it difficult to find open capacity for any extra loads of milk.

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Dairy Farmers of America’s Southwest Area team kept tabs on farms, members and facilities in the area.

“The cold temperatures and extreme weather have presented challenges, but we’re hearing that most are doing ‘okay’,” said DFA’s Kim O’Brien. Improving weather was easing concerns, but measuring long-term impacts will take time.

Moderating temperatures in Arizona strengthened milk production, and manufacturers were running near full capacity. However, processors in surrounding states turned back loads of milk and cream they would typically take in from Arizona milk handlers.

Milk production was strong in California, restricting processors from taking extra loads from other parts of the region. A few milk handlers were discounting loads of milk to $3 or $4 under Class III to find a home for the milk.

Farmers and dairy processors in the Pacific Northwest continued to grapple with the effects from a strong winter storm the previous weekend heavy snows; freezing rain and power outages disrupted milk transportation and processing. A few highway passes were cleared until midweek, and some farmers had to dispose of milk because trucks could not reach the farm. Power outages stretched into late in the week, and other processors worked with skeleton crews, forcing several manufacturers to discard some milk supplies.

Milk production in the mountain states of Idaho, Utah and Colorado was strong and keeping processing facilities full. Industry contacts say that some extra loads of Idaho milk were moving into surrounding states at discounts of $4 to $5 under Class IV prices.

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Upper Midwestern temperatures and conditions were far from comfortable, with dairy farmers in northern Wisconsin reporting temperatures at morning milking as low as minus 40ºF. There’s still plenty of milk. Cheesemakers in the Midwest reported spot milk prices from $5 to $6.50 per hundredweight (cwt) under class, with discounting slightly less than most of the winter. That compares to discounts of $2 to $5 under class last year and $1-$2 per cwt two years ago.

In the Northeast, milk output was up slightly; supplies were balanced in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Milk production in the Southeast was up slightly, with some hauling disrupted by snow, sleet and rain. In Florida, milk output reached its peak, although there is room for potential milk growth this season.

The USDA’s Risk Management Agency listed multiple resources for dairy and livestock producers seeking federal assistance.  end mark

Dave Natzke
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