Why milk is being dumped right now

dairy cattle

There are photos on social media of dairy farmers dumping milk down the drain because processors have no market for it. At the same time, photos are appearing of grocery stores signs saying customers must limit their milk purchases.

That doesn’t make sense. What’s the deal?

It’s complicated, but basically the industry got turned on end when the COVID-19 crisis hit the U.S. People in the industry are working to right the ship, but it’s been a challenge to pivot quickly enough.

At first, people stocked up on dairy products, especially fluid milk, like never before. That left empty shelves in the dairy section. Grocery stores responded by setting quantity limits on milk purchases so they didn’t run out again.

Zippy Duvall, American Farm Bureau Federation president, said on a media call April 3 that he personally reached out to Walmart asking them about their milk purchasing limits.

It’s gotten to the point that the American Dairy Association Mideast is asking people to report stores in Ohio and West Virginia that are putting quantity limits on milk purchases. If you see a store limiting milk purchases, take a picture, note the location, date and time and send it to Erin.Brown@Drink-Milk.com.

What’s going on at grocery stores is an issue of incredibly high demand, not low supply. The U.S. does NOT have an issue with milk supply. If you like drinking milk, that’s the good news. There’s lots to go around. That’s also the bad news.

Many dairy processors lost markets for their milk and other products as schools and restaurants were forced to close. Food service, schools and universities are big customers for many processors. 

On top of that, milk production in cows naturally rises in the spring. It’s called the “spring flush.”

Hence, the surplus of milk. Milk, being a highly perishable commodity, can’t just sit around in a silo until the market recovers and schools reopen.

While milk can be diverted over to be put in half gallons and gallons — which seem to be in demand with lots of families stuck at home — making that switch takes time. Some processors can’t take on anymore, so they’re asking farmers to dump some of their milk.

Dairy plants are also dealing with the same issues other businesses are with keeping the workforce healthy. Employees are calling off sick or due to lack of childcare issues (since the schools are out, remember). Some plants are doing modified runs to allow for social distancing and taking more downtime to ensure proper sanitization to protect employees. 

That also doesn’t help processors with products that were already packaged for schools and food service customers, like milk in half pint cartons or shredded cheese in bulk.

One question that’s popped up is why can’t milk be donated to a food bank instead of being dumped? Well, because it still has to be processed first. That’s an issue if processors are having trouble keeping up as is. Milk and other dairy products are being donated when and where it’s possible, but that’s not a solution for every dairy.

In response to these issues, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it would relax some rules within the Federal Milk Marketing Order program if requested, including allowing milk to be dumped and still priced and pooled on the order to limit financial impacts on producers. That doesn’t guarantee farmers will be paid for dumped milk, but it’s the first step in the process.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture issued guidance to farmers on how to properly dispose of excess milk. That guidance can be found here.


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Rachel is Farm and Dairy's editor and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County, where she co-manages the family farm raising beef cattle and sheep with her husband and in-laws. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts. She can be reached at rachel@farmanddairy.com or 724-201-1544.


  1. I didn’t get a picture (because right now I’m not carrying my phone in a store) but Aldi’s in mount Vernon, Ohio had a limit of 2. I didn’t buy any but they said to inform people.

      • I wish the farmers bureau would contact Nesquick and see if they would help. Milk is the vessel of Nesquick. I’d love to see them mail coupons out to every American that gives them a free Nesquick with purchase of a gallon of milk. I think that could help and would be great PR for them. Just my thought.

  2. Most of the stores in ashtabula ohio say no more that 2. Save a lot , Aldis , family dollar stores. Giant Eagle was as well.

  3. It appears that all in all, this issue is NOT with the dairy farmer. It is with the processing at the distributor. The farmers have an over supply, but the distributors can’t handle the overflow.

    So maybe it is time for the distributors to get on the ball and get to processing more milk.

    It would be better to sell milk for a dollar a gallon than waste it. At least you would be making some money.

  4. I can’t believe that dairy farmers are dumping milk because of the slow demand as commercial customers are slowing purchases. We can’t find milk at the grocery stores as it is. Are the dairy farmers so greedy that the would rather dump milk, than reduce the wholesale cost like gasoline and create a demand for the $2 or $1.50 a gallon for milk and get it back on the shelves??

    • Hi Alan, thanks for reading. It’s not that the farmers want to dump milk. They are being asked to by their processors who they are contracted with that buy their milk. Because those processors do not have a place for it.

  5. Any way to process more of the milk in to cheese? More stable, and I think as time goes on, more people are going to be short money and the cheese could be paid for and distributed by the government. AKA, government cheese.

    I kind of think the cheese plants are going full bore also.

  6. I apologize now for the length of the message.
    I’m trying to reach out to someone that can possibly help my friends here in East Texas. I live in an area that was once rich and flourishing in the dairy business. Hopkins County was known to a great number as a dairy capital. Now there are empty shells of old dairy barns and stories of glory days and green grass.
    Before the present crisis and the Shelter In Place became the norm and before the mass hoarding of goods, we here in East Texas were having trouble with the pricing of dairy products. In Sulphur Springs, Texas, the county seat, a gallon of non-branded whole milk was selling for around $2.96 and a Borden type brand would sell for $3.90 or a little more. If you traveled west for 45 minutes the price would drop about 30¢ per gl. If you drove another 30 minutes west, into the East Dallas areas, the price would drop an astonishing $1.20 per gallon. The reasoning was apparently the presence of Aldi and Trader Joe grocery stores as Walmart, Kroger and other grocers would freely admit to comping for the Aldi/Trader Joe pricing. As pricing began to increase in the Sulphur Springs market to $3.80+ for the non-brand, the pricing in Dallas remained at the $2 mark for a long while.
    A quick look to the Tyler/Longview market would show that the obvious difference was the Aldi existence. Proof became apparent when Aldi moved into Mt. Pleasant, Texas just east of Sulphur Springs, and the milk prices plummeted.
    So, the non-brand( the WIC program stickered brand ) for the more rural and lower income areas was bringing more money for the area grocery stores. $3.96 vs $2.39… If you were to ask a grocery store manager, they would tell you it was all about freight and fuel surcharges. But, these stores charging the outrageous prices were all peppered or intermingled within the areas of the reduced prices. The same distances and frequent off-interstate highway trips for the product.
    Now, in this crunch we are being told that there is a shortage and the price for families on the WIC program in the more rural stores are paying $4.49 for that same ‘non’ gallon of whole. The reports of tens of thousands of gallons being dumped weekly are unimaginable.
    Our dilemma is obvious. A product that is abundantly able to sell for much less is being over priced to the areas that need the discount just as much or more than the larger townships with the higher average incomes. We are asking for anyone who can answer with an uninsulting logic why this is the norm for a product that is needed and has a market that needs to remain as public friendly as dairy in this over politically correct, health driven atmosphere. The dairy alternatives are winning because of bad faith in pricing as well as the bad misinformation that dairy has advertised these days.
    For the dairy lovers of rural East Texas and a generation on the grow,, please, can you help us find help.

    Thank you,

    Ken Wisdom

  7. Right now the entire food industry is going full steam. You also have to remember they have to set up even safer and cleaner environments than normal. These plants are very conscious of the cleanliness of their environment, but this virus has been very disruptive and based off info from our gov. the virus can stick to hard surfaces for a longer time. Some people also have family and kids to tend to and makes it hard for the plants to process as much as they did before. The processing industry much like our entire country was not ready for something this extreme. When was the last time you were told to stay at home for weeks possibly months? Also the binge buying throughout this whole crisis has not helped the situation. The short shelf life of this ingredient also doesn’t help the situation.

  8. OH, this dairy issue is a HUGE mess. More politics are involved than most people know.
    My father dumped milk in the 1970’s. This problem could be worked out if all the farmers
    united. We need small dairy farms. Nobody could ever convince me there is too much milk.
    The government should buy excess and process into cheese for first, seniors on social security
    and then maybe access card holders. Remember this is only my opinion and everyone has

  9. Why can’t they make powdered milk out of it or cheese in blocks, or can it, powdered milk is and given out to families years ago. And now on reservations, lower the income level to help families, I remember my parents getting all kinds of food, egg powder, canned food, powdered milk.
    Just would help everyone, commodities is what it is called.

  10. I was in sticker shock when I moved to Florida from Arizona for the price of milk down here. Maybe people would buy more milk down here if it wasn’t $3.50 – $4.00+ per gallon!!! In Arizona we paid $1.88 – $1.99 per gallon. Just wondering why the price gouging?

  11. so it is not because pasteurizing doesn’t kill the Virus!! Its because people bought too much milk! I don’t think so, Milk does not store like toilet paper. There was not a soda, beer rush, or liquor rush which does store. Why limit people to milk? if there was a shortage why dump it?? Govt should buy the milk turn it into cheese as had been done in the past. Handout cheese to the poor and other food. forget the use of corrupt food stamps. it might be a cure for so many super fat poor people. Could the USA be preparing for a WAR with all its shortages to come, if so don’t screw with the farmers SCHOOLS ARE HANDING OUT BREAKFAST AND LUNCH AND MILK in NY state There is NO GLUT OR NO SHORTAGE EXCEPT SELF IMPOSED GOVERNMENT CREATED SHORTAGE

  12. There is a lot of waste in school cafeterias suggesting some of the milk was just being thrown out. Supposedly, there is excess milk because schools and restaurants are shut down. I assume everyone has all the milk they need so there was a lot of waste in schools and restaurants. Now everyone stays home and only buys and uses milk they need. So, farmers are throwing out excess milk instead of schools and restaurants throwing out unused or unfinished milk. If I bought 2 gallons of milk which I would have difficulty storing, one gallon would go bad before I would use it. How does one binge buy a product with a short life that supposedly cannot be frozen? As far as price is concerned, in one area of town, a gallon of milk is $3.50, 4 miles away $1.89, and 30 miles away $1.29 all in metro Detroit northern suburbs.

  13. Where is the director of the USDA in all of this confusion? Make a damned plan, use the authority of your office, and get it done (speaking as if I were the President)!!

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