FILE - Dairy farm cows

(The Center Square) – As much of the country begins to reopen as stay-at-home orders were put in place to help slow the spread of COVID-19, Arizona's dairy industry is starting to rebound though challenges remain.

During the height of the lockdowns, Arizona's Agricultural Department reported that demand for milk had dropped 50 percent.

But Tammy Baker, general manager of Arizona Milk Producers, says that dairy is currently selling at 120 percent of normal at grocery stores.

"When the panic hit, consumers realized the high nutritional value of dairy and wanted to make sure they were purchasing enough of it," Baker told The Center Square. "They also started cooking more, and dairy is an essential ingredient in many recipes."

One challenge is the slowdown of the food service industry including restaurants. This has affected not only dairy but other food and beverage providers.

"Almost 60% of our butter and 40% of our cheese was sold to food service, so when that area of sales closed down or was drastically reduced it could not help but reduce overall sales," Baker said. "We anticipate as restaurants reopen, demand will increase because there will be more avenues through which to sell dairy."

Baker said that about 7 percent of milk volume is sold through schools.

"Our major concern with schools closing was that many of the families who depended on their children eating breakfast and lunch at schools did not have the means to provide those meals at home, especially with so many businesses closing down," Baker said. "During the pandemic, the dairy community has focused a large amount of our time finding ways to get more milk and dairy to school feeding sites and food banks and pantries and will continue to do so.

"The best thing the average consumer can do to help dairy is to buy more dairy, and donate dairy to their local food bank to help others," Baker said. "Food banks are seeing as much as a 40% increase in customers right now. The need is great."