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Kentucky dairy farmers take a hit as demand declines

H. H. Barlow, a lifelong dairy farmer from Barren County, said he’s never experienced a time as challenging as this.


Many dairy farmers say COVID-19 has hit them hard, forcing them to consider closing their businesses and at the very least, cutting their expenses. 

H. H. Barlow runs a dairy farm with 140 cows, producing more than 750 gallons of milk a day.  

“Of course we milk twice a day," said Barlow, executive director of the Kentucky Dairy Development Council.

Barlow, a lifelong dairy farmer from Barren County, said he’s never experienced a time as challenging as this. 

"What has the impact of COVID-19 been for you?" FOCUS investigative reporter Paula Vasan asked. 

“It’s been, more than anything else, the total, almost collapse of our milk price," he said. 

He said over the last month, he’s taken a 40 percent pay cut.  

“It’s why you’ve seen some of those horrible pictures of milk being poured out."

And it’s not a problem just here in Kentucky. We received a video from Nielsen Farms Ltd. in Canada, taken on Sunday, showing milk going down the drain.

As COVID-19 has forced closures of restaurants and schools, some of the biggest purchasers of milk, Barlow said many farmers around the world have had to dump their precious commodity. The gist: Their traditional distribution channels have been completely upended. 

“It’s always sad when you see somebody go out of business and I’m afraid we’re facing some of that as well," Barlow said.

Right now, he said there are about 450 dairy farms in Kentucky. He said in the next few months, a portion may have to close. Barlow said he hasn’t had to dump milk yet, but he has cut costs. 

“We were going to install new fans to keep my cows cooler in the summer coming up, I’ve had to put that on hold,” said Barlow. 

For support, he encourages all farmers to take advantage of state and federal insurance programs, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for example. 

“We will all need to make sure we sign up for insurance programs to cover our losses,” he said.

Despite the hardship, he has this message of hope: “We’ll come through it. We will make it through.”

Dairy farmers told Vasan the best thing you can do to support them is to pour yourself a glass of milk. The more consumption of products like milk, cheese and ice cream, the better. 

"COVID-19 and the resulting loss of many aspects of the food service industry has added a new layer of challenges to an industry already facing difficulties," the Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation said in a statement. "The food service industry accounts for approximately 40% of dairy product demand. While Kentucky dairy farmers are facing uncertainty on the farm, they continue producing milk for our nation and provide a critical part of America’s food supply."


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►Contact reporter Paula Vasan at pvasan@whas11.com on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram

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