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For Minnesota dairy farmers, COVID-19 presents another hurdle

Young calf in barn.

Minnesota dairy farms cleared COVID-19 hurdles better than peers in other states, the absence of any known milk dumping perhaps being the clearest evidence, but tough challenges arose and persist.

Those are among the conclusions drawn by a trio of University of Minnesota Extension researchers who’ve been examining the finances of the state’s livestock producers as COVID-19 continues. In a newly issued report, they noted that, on average, 2019 had provided a much-needed turnaround for some Minnesota dairy farmers. Still, others experienced a sixth year of consecutive losses.  

First-quarter losses

The loss of markets due to COVID-19 got 2020 off to a bad first quarter; there was a 40 percent drop in prices through late April. Most Minnesota milk goes into cheese production, which helped provide a buffer against losses felt in other locations.

“We’d be writing a very different report if we were on the East coast,” said Extension educator Megan Roberts. “The industry there depends heavily on tourism and hospitality, and it has yet to recover.”

She and Extension colleagues–economist Joleen Hadrich and senior economic impact analyst Brigid Tuck– prepared “The Role of Dairy Farmers in Minnesota’s Economy.”

They found the average contribution of a Minnesota dairy farm to the state’s economic activity is approximately $1.6 million. Minnesota has 2,456 dairy farms; on average, they have 200 head of cattle.  Areas with strong concentrations of dairy farms particularly rely upon them through the support of local businesses including feed mills, veterinarians and other suppliers. Stearns, Morrison and Winona counties lead in Minnesota’s dairy production.

Helpful support

Hadrich noted Minnesota’s dairy industry also is being helped by school districts that continue summer nutrition programs, keeping open a pipeline between farms and consumers. The falling price of grains for feeding cattle will also help, though crop farmers may feel pain, and lower fuel costs may reduce hauling expenses.

Conversely, while some state and federal legislation will help dairy farmers, the researchers noted not all losses are covered by COVID-19 relief.

Traditionally, June provides opportunities for non-farmers to visit dairy operations for events such as “breakfast on the farm” and other dairy month celebrations. While COVID-19 has led to their cancellations, “there are still ways to support Minnesota dairy farmers,” Tuck noted. She and her colleagues pointed to Extension resources on dairy’s value as a nutrient as a good starting point.

Milk is a local food, traveling less than 100 miles from barn to table. Learn more about reasons to incorporate dairy into diet and find links to nutritious recipes.


Allison Sandve, Extension news media manager, ajsandve@umn.edu, 612-626-4077 (office) or 651-492-0811 (mobile).
Contact Extension Communications at extnews@umn.edu.

Permission is granted to news media to republish our news articles with credit to University of Minnesota Extension. Images also may be republished; please check for specific photographer credits or limited use restrictions in the photo title.

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