HADLEY – Jessica Dizek, co-owner of Mapleline Farm, says the coronavirus has brought new challenges to the dairy industry.
But the answers may just be old answers: delivery, local distribution and brand loyalty with an emphasis on quality.
At Mapleine, she reduced the Jerseys dairy herd from 120 – the number that would be milked in a normal summer – to 100 and she changed her cow’s diet to further reduce their production, mirroring the measures taken by farmers. of the region.
“But when consumers go to the grocery store, they can see signs saying, ‘Please only buy one gallon of milk,’ Dizek said. ‘It has to do with distribution. C whiplash. You don’t know what’s going on from week to week.
Mapleline had to “empty some loads” – throw in milk that couldn’t make its way into the workflow and at a customer’s.
“You still treat twice a day,” Dizek said. “You just aren’t paid for it. “
But things are improving as the shocks of spring give way to June, the month of the National Journal.
The 106-year-old Mapleline farm has the old-fashioned advantage of processing and bottling their herd’s milk on-site, then distributing that milk to retailers – Big Y Foods Inc. sells it locally – and through the intermediary of innovative delivery services that arose as a result of the coronavirus as Sunderland Food Collaborative, a delivery service offering local foods including milk from Mapleline, Cream of the Crop in Russell, and High Lawn Farm in Lee.
Mapleline has discontinued its delivery service. But with the coronavirus keeping people at home and making many wary of going out to the Sunderland Food Cooperative grocery store formed in March to deliver farm-fresh food.
“When supplies in retail are scarce, people flock to home delivery,” said Michael DeAngelis, vice president of corporate communications and dietitian for New England Dairy, a commercial group. “I know farmers who cannot meet the demand.
The pandemic has hit dairy farmers – who have faced oversupply and declining demand for years – in a difficult place. Institutional buyers like schools and colleges have closed.
Restaurants too. Although consumer demand has increased, it has not compensated for the loss of business and school customers, and the sizes and types of products are different.
DeAngelis said the shift in the market could be as subtle as someone working from home buying a half-and-half pint for morning coffee at the expense of a cafe that would normally order gallons of stuff, but didn’t. no business because customers don’t commute.
This has left processors like Agri-Mark, which makes the Cabot and McAdam brands and has a factory in West Springfield selling 1 brick of butter bound in stores instead of four quarter-pound sticks, said Douglas DiMento. , director of corporate communications at Agri-Marque.
Agri-Mark recently donated 5-pound jars of sour cream to food banks. A strange thing for families looking for shelf life staples to entertain. But that’s what was at hand and the restaurant market dried up. The sour cream had to go somewhere or it would be wasted.
“Everyone is nervous,” DiMento said.
Agri-Mark has asked its farmers to cut back on production, and its West Springfield plant produces shelf-stable products like butter and low-fat dry milk powder. which allows it to find markets for milk that are not time sensitive.
Only a handful of Agri-Mark member farms have completely stopped milking and sold their herds since the coronavirus hit. DiMento said he was a bit pleasantly surprised by this, but expects the number to increase as the summer progresses.
“It’s a great time of year for farmers,” he said, “You have to spend money on fertilizer to have fodder in the fall. You have all these inputs and no guarantees. to make money.A lot of people are going to make decisions.
He said that with the reopening of some restaurants, there was some recovery of orders from restaurant customers. And grocery store orders are high for cheese and butter, long-life products.
“Everyone wants to restock their stores right now,” DiMento said. “Once restocked, what happens. What will normal look like? “
He said the emphasis on local and fresh is certainly here to stay. Every Agri-Mark member with a side business selling vegetables at a roadside stall brings in land office business, he said.
Mapleline Distributor Worcester Regional Food Center pivoted when the coronavirus hit a wholesale distributor connecting Massachusetts farms, fishing operations, and small factories with restaurants and retailers to a retailer itself selling food – including Mapelline Milk – in boxes of take-out food for consumers, said director Shon Rainford.
That means 200 half-gallons per week, including 120 half-gallon bottles sold in food cans that patrons collected from the parking lot of a Worcester church on Wednesday afternoon.
“Before the pandemic, we weren’t selling a lot of milk at all,” Rainford said.
He said he still sells Mapleline milk to a few retailers, including Strong Style Coffee in Fitchburg, and expects that business to pick up as more restaurants and cafes open.
He also expects the Worcester Regional Food Hub to stay in the direct-to-consumer food box business, as consumers continue to eat at home, avoid chopping, and want to eat fresh and local.
“We just wanted to continue supporting farmers in our region,” he said. “It’s really taken off.”
The food boxes also contain products like cheese and kettle corn that come from local producers that are not necessarily farms.
“These companies are also struggling,” Rainford said. “I have food producers sleeping in their offices right now because they can’t pay the rent for a place to live.”