FILE - Dairy farm cows

(The Center Square) – Wisconsin dairy farmers are pouring milk down the drain. 

Almost all of the state's large dairy groups are pleading with the federal government to assist farmers with milk that is going to waste because of the coronavirus.  

"With 80 percent of Americans under order to shelter in their homes, hundreds of thousands of restaurants, schools, and other food service outlets have closed or significantly reduced offerings, which means cheese and butter manufacturers have lost their largest market," the groups wrote in a letter to the U.S. Dairy Association on Wednesday. 

There is so much extra milk that some farmers in Wisconsin started dumping their tanks on Wednesday. 

The dairy groups, which include the Dairy Business Association, the Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, and Wisconsin Farmers Union, say the federal government should buy more milk and cheese. 

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and his Department of Agriculture wrote a similar letter to the USDA on Wednesday, asking for similar help. 

The governor says the federal government could send the extra milk and cheese to food banks, or give it to people who are getting federal food assistance. 

“In a time when many people are already food-insecure, it’s more important than ever that we get Wisconsin’s nutritious commodities in the hands of consumers who need them the most,” Evers said. 

The governor said Wisconsin's dairy industry represents nearly $105 billion of the state's economy. 

The dairy groups' letter says their industry was vulnerable before the outbreak, and is even more vulnerable now. 

"Direct relief to dairy farmers and a substantial purchase of dairy commodities by USDA can ensure our industry will remain fiscally able to function in its primary role of feeding the nation and the world," the groups wrote. "Specifically, we ask USDA to focus on purchases of nonfat dry milk, butter, cheddar styles, mozzarella, and other Italian-styles of cheese, both in bulk formats and in formats purposed for use by restaurants and food service vendors."

The recent coronavirus stimulus package that Congress just passed includes billions of dollars of relief for farmers and billions more for food stamp assistance. The dairy groups say the USDA needs to "bring these forms of aid to bear immediately."

The Center Square Correspondent

An industry veteran with two decades of experience in media, Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square.