Dairy industry hit hard by school & restaurant closures

Local

JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) – The impact COVID-19 has had on the food service industry and schools is affecting dairy farms in the Tri-Cities.

Third generation farmer Mike Saylor tells News Channel 11 that while grocery sales have gone up, food service sales of dairy products have dropped.

Saylor works for Sayland Farms in Jonesborough, Tennessee. The farm is family owned.

He said the pandemic has not altered any day-to-day operations.

“We’re still doing the same thing everyday,” said Saylor.

A big problem for Tennessee farmers has been the affect coronavirus has had on prices, according to Saylor. He said profits are not exceeding feed costs.

“This year it started out in the plus, but when this hit, it’s going south in a hurry,” he said. “They’re telling us now it could go down as much as five dollars, 100 by June.”

Dairy Extension Specialist Liz Eckelkamp said another concern is the closure of schools and restaurants, which drastically impacts where dairy goes to be processed.

“Usually about 50 percent of our raw dairy product goes into the food service industry,” said Eckelkamp, “whether that’s the milk you get in your coffee at Starbucks or the cheese you get on your burger at McDonald’s.”

Eckelkamp said so far, the bright spot is that Tennessee farms have not seen excess milk supply, like farms in Wisconsin or New York. Some farmers up north have had to dump their excess supply.

“Other places have been having to do things like feed more of that milk directly to their calves,” she said. “So putting some of that milk back into what we feed them to try to cut down on feed costs.”

“Some other farmers have been land applying it as fertilizer,” Eckelkamp added.

Both Ecklekamp and Saylor ask the public to keep buying dairy.

“The milk is still safe as it’s ever been,” said Saylor smiling.

Saylor believes it will be some time before we see whether the gradual reopening of the economy start to help sales of dairy products trend in an upward direction.

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