Dairy farmers milk fewer cows and dump excess, stay-at-home order hurting business

FAIRBURY, Ill. (WLS) -- Coronavirus is delivering yet another blow to an already reeling dairy industry. Dairy producers are being forced to dump their products due to a massive drop in demand and price.

Kilgus Farmstead in Fairbury sits 100 miles outside the Windy City.

"We are a family operation," said Matt Kilgus.

The farm supplies milk and dairy products to dozens of Chicago restaurants.

"That has been one of our hardest hit markets because of the restaurants and coffee shops," Kilgus said.

The pandemic has more than cut those sales in half. According to Kilgus, 80% of the farm's regular customers are now temporarily out of business.

"It started with our Chicago orders having to cancel," Kilgus said.

His farm is just one of hundreds of Illinois dairy farms hit hard by the COVID-19 chaos.

"We were milking about 150 cows, but we cut back to 115," Kilgus said.

Even with the cutbacks, milk still had to be dumped in the field.

"You return it to the land as fertilizer to get rid of it," he said.

Some states have dumped semi-trailers full of milk because they simply do not have a way to store it.

Schools, restaurants, institutions and universities closed to help slow the spread of the deadly virus, which took away a huge chunk of business for dairy farmers.

On a dairy farm in Winnebago, just a few miles from Rockford, John Mitchell of Mitchell Dairy and Grain LLC. said he is preparing for a few months of low milk prices.

"We currently have about 430 cows milking," Mitchell said. "The industry as a whole has seen some major disruptions in the way dairy products are being purchased."

Prairie Farms, which works with more than 800 local farms in the Midwest, said that the stay-at-home orders have led to a spike in dairy sales at grocery stores, but those numbers change weekly.

"Peak of production is there, but the peak of sales is not," said Matt Kilgus.
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