Rolling Hills Dairy Producers Cooperative partners with Hunger Task Force and other local pantries to produce cheese curds from Brunkow Cheese in Darlington, Wisconsin to distribute to struggling families during COVID-19.
With federal funding available, Hunger Task Force and other local pantries are buying cheese curds from the market cooperative at cost. At this pricing rate, the marketing cooperative is receiving enough money to pay their farmers and the cost of cheese production. By buying the product, the Hunger Task Force and other local pantries are helping to get this milk processed rather than the milk going down the drain.
Rolling Hills Dairy Producers Cooperative, a dairy marketing cooperative in Monroe, Wisconsin, that markets fifty-six million pounds of milk a month from 160 farms across southwestern Wisconsin. Similar to other cooperatives and other proprietary plants, Rolling Hills at times are struggling to find a home to get their milk processed.
“Many dairy plants or different dairy products are backing out of contracts and taking in less volume,” said Larry Hermanson, General Manager of Rolling Hills Dairy Producers Cooperative. “The main driver is that inventory and orders are not coming in for dairy products due to the lack of food service sales.”
Over recent years, dairy consumption has gone down due to competition to different non-dairy milk alternatives. With schools not in session, fluid milk consumption has gone down. Fluid milk consumption in schools accounts for eight percent of dairy consumption. While restaurants account for close to thirty percent of dairy product consumption, according to Hoard’s Dairyman.
The partnership with Rolling Hills and Hunger Task Force has given the cooperative an opportunity at another outlet for milk during these uncertain times. This led to the partnership of Rolling Hills and Brunkow Cheese, the plant producing the cheese curds. The cheese plant, Brunkow Cheese, producing the curd got to take their employees out of unemployment. Brunkow Cheese was closed due to a lack of orders in the food service industry, and was trying to finish their remodel.
Brunkow Cheese was selected by Rolling Hills because it was the only one of plants that we knew that was not running at full capacity. Brunkow Cheese employees were on furlough due to the lack of orders on the food service industry and the cheese store remodel. The other plants also wanted too much money to produce the “squeaky” but delicious product of curds.
However, the dairy plants are not the only ones struggling during these difficult times. The dairy farmers across the nation are taking it even harder. With economic closures, the milk prices fell like other agricultural products.
“2020 was looking like a very promising year,” according to Larry Hermanson. “It was a pretty picture that got real ugly real fast.”
Prices throughout the years of 2015 to 2019 have been low with few peaks in certain months due to the demand of milk. During these years, farmers were happy if they had enough money to pay all the bills.
Farmers are still continuing to work hard every day to put a quality product on their consumers’ kitchen table during COVID-19.
“Consumers need to buy and consume more dairy products,” from Larry Hermanson. The consumer could end up being the life line to help Wisconsin dairy farmers get their businesses back on track.