With schools and restaurants closed during the coronavirus pandemic, truck drivers afraid to transport product for fear of catching the virus, and exports slowing to a crawl, the dairy industry is taking a hit—and it's forcing farmers to trash their milk supply. "We need you to start dumping your milk," an Illinois dairy farmer tells Reuters was the message to him from a Dairy Farmers of America rep. Dairy products, especially milk, are still in demand at supermarkets; there's often even a ration per customer. But panic buying has decreased in recent days, and that demand for dairy has dropped about "12% to 15% across the entire United States," a DFA spokeswoman tells NBC News. And it's not only a demand issue: The supply chain itself has been upended, meaning dairy farmers simply can't get their perishable product to where it's got to go in time.
Suppliers are also having trouble manufacturing or repackaging milk for retail instead of for wholesale (which is how schools, hotels, and restaurants purchase it)—and so milk cooperatives are instructing members to pour out thousands of gallons a day. "You can't shut down cows. You can't turn them off like a faucet," a Wisconsin dairy farmer tells NBC. "Just to see it literally going down the drain—it's devastating." The International Dairy Foods Association tells the New York Times that 5% or so of the nation's milk is being thrown out, and that will jump to two times that much if the US is shut down for a few more months. A Texas farmer even asked if he could donate his milk supply, but there aren't available processing plants. It's "a kick in the gut," he tells WFAA. "When I grew up, if you had food on your plate, you better finish it." The Times has more on the "widespread destruction of fresh food" across the nation. (Read more dairy products stories.)