SoCal food supply, especially IE dairy farms, interrupted by COVID-19

Dairy farms in the Inland Empire are seeing their operations disrupted by a steep drop in demand for milk amid the closures of schools and restaurants.
It's springtime in the Inland Empire and that means business as usual at many local dairy farms.

At least for the cows, that is.

"The cow, just by nature, produces more milk in the spring than the fall," said Geoffrey Vandenheuvel with the Milk Producers Council. "We have a certain amount of capacity to deal with the fluctuations that occur all the time.

"But then to have the shock to hit the economy three or four weeks ago, it just completely changed the demand of all our consumers."

Vandenheuvel said the typical supply-and-demand fluctuations the industry sees have now been thrown out the window.

"You have this huge infrastructure that's processing dairy products, and then all the restaurants close, the schools close, the hotels close."

And the dairy industry, like most other industries, isn't built to quickly deal with large changes in supply and demand.

"One of the things about efficient systems is you don't have a lot of slack in the system, because it costs a lot of money to maintain slack that you never use."

This comes at the same time that one of the nation's largest pork processing facilities is closing until further notice. The CEO of Smithfield said in a statement that the closure of its Sioux Falls, South Dakota facility, where many employees have tested positive for COVID-19, is pushing the country closer to the edge in terms of the meat supply.

Dr. Nick Vyas at the University of Southern California's Center for Global Supply Chain Management said it's not just employees at food processing plants getting sick, but customers' hoarding habits that are wreaking havoc with the system.

"It started out with essential commodities such as wipes, gloves and masks, and disinfection-related supplies and tissue paper," said Vyas. "This really has become a vicious cycle in terms of artificial spikes in demand, and people hoarding goods."

While local dairy farms might not be in crisis mode just yet, Vyas said many producers will soon be on the brink.

"They will not have enough resources to survive throughout this crisis, and therefore they'll be exposed to going out of business or they'll put themselves in financial constraint for a long period of time."
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