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Carroll County dairy farmers see outlook go from ‘really good’ to ‘really bad’ in COVID-19 pandemic

Local farmers had hoped 2020 would be a turnaround year for the dairy industry in Carroll County, but instead there has been a steep decrease in milk prices as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dairy farmers get paid for every 100 pounds of milk that they sell, a unit also referred to as 100 weight. According to Katie Dotterer-Pyle, owner of Cow Comfort Inn Dairy in Union Bridge, 2013 was the best year on record for dairy farmers, as they were selling milk at $30 on average per 100 pounds of milk. The following year, that dropped to $12 per 100 pounds.

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Over the past two years, Dotterer-Pyle said, the average milk price was about $17 per 100 pounds and dairy farmers hoped for an increase to $20 per 100 pounds of milk in 2020.

“We were looking forward to a better milk price year. So many farmers have dug themselves a hole, and when I say that, it’s going into debt more,” she said. “A lot of farmers had to take out lines of credit and take out more loans, just to operate just a few accounts, because we weren’t getting paid enough to cover our expenses.”

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The pandemic of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, was not something anyone could see coming, and May brought an especially low milk price, according to Dotterer-Pyle. For the Land O’Lakes Foundation, of which Dotterer-Pyle is a part, about 60% of their dairy products had nowhere to go because the demand from food services had decreased.

As of June, the price of milk per 100 pounds is a little over $11, according to the American Dairy Association North East.

Some food services have not been able to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially after Gov. Larry Hogan ordered that dine-in services be closed to the public. Restaurants that were able to remain open could only provide carryout, curbside and delivery services.

“I think it’s almost half the butterfat gets used in the food service in the U.S,” said Matt Hoff, owner of Coldsprings Farm in New Windsor. “So that drove butter and cheese price down. Butter six months ago was $2.20, and dropped down to almost a dollar. So that decreased our income rather quickly.”

For Hoff, the price for milk per 100 pounds dropped by 33% in a month.

According to Hoff, it takes about $18 to $20 per 100 pounds of milk for a farmer to break even.

“None of those expenses change when that price dropped,” Hoff said. “Last fall, everyone thought we were going to have a good year, which we have not had since 2014. So they went from looking really good to look really bad.”

Dotterer-Pyle posted a video on her Facebook page explaining why some dairy farmers have had to resort to dumping milk rather than donating it, as well as the processes the milk goes through.

“A lot of questions I’ve been getting is, ‘Katie why can’t you just donate this milk to the food bank? Why can’t we just come to your farm with our mason jars and milk jugs?’ ” Dotterer-Pyle said. “Well, because milk goes through a lot of different processes.”

According to Dotterer-Pyle, it’s illegal in Maryland to sell raw milk, so it has to be processed for farmers to sell it.

There has been some movement in a positive direction for dairy farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been buying dairy products and produce for those who need it, according to Hoff.

“That’s actually driving milk prices up right now, back to kind of where they were before, but us dairy farmers won’t see that improvement in prices until mid to late July because we’re always 15 to 30 days behind on getting paid for our milk,” Hoff said. “The June milk price is going up pretty good, but we won’t get paid for any of our June milk until the very end of the month.”

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