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Coronavirus transforms 2020 from a profitable year for dairy farmers to a challenge to their existence

One local creamery is doing its best to adapt as dairies across the country are forced to dump milk

ST. LOUIS —

Dairy farmers have had a rough go of it over the last half-decade, but 2020 looked like the year things would turn around.

Then came the coronavirus.

“It is a really big problem across the country, where we’re hearing of our friends that are having to just dump their milk,” said Marcoot Jersey Creamery owner Amy Marcoot.

The COVID-19 outbreak has caused milk prices to crash as their biggest customers — restaurants, schools and hotels — close. In the meantime, cows continue to produce, leaving many dairy farmers with an excess supply of the perishable product. Hundreds of gallons of milk have been dumped as farmers do their best to shift from larger clients to consumers.

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Marcoot said her creamery in Greenville, Illinois, is comparatively lucky thanks to its size and products.

“We’re small enough where we can be nimble and adjust,” she said. “It’s very much about being creative with our resources and trying to figure out ways. We make cheese that we can age a little bit longer, so it will last a little bit longer.”

While Marcoot Jersey Creamery’s cheese does have a shelf life more than a year longer than the standard gallon of milk, it doesn’t mean demand is equaling production these days. Marcoot said 80% of the farm’s revenue disappeared as universities, country clubs and restaurants shut their doors.

“Everything changed for everybody overnight, essentially,” she said. “So, everybody’s just trying to make the best of it.”

For Marcoot, that means creating new ways to sell their cheeses and frozen desserts. They’ve started curbside pickup at the creamery’s Country Store and local delivery of not only their dairy but also their beef products.

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Marcoot said local cheese buyers at mom-and-pop grocery stores and chains like Dierbergs also have helped the creamery shift gears. She said the buyer at Schnucks has been especially helpful.

“I tried to explain to him, ‘It’s pretty devastating,’” Marcoot said. “And he said, ‘OK, we’re going to figure something out.’ And they did. They placed a really large order.”

She said while retail demand is up, the creamery still isn’t selling as much cheese as usual. Still, she said she’s so grateful for the retailers and customers who’ve supported them.

“You don’t really farm to become wealthy. You farm because you love the land and you love the animals and you take a lot of pride in what you do.”

The Marcoot family has raised and milked cows for the better part of two centuries, and though COVID-19 is an incredible challenge to surmount right now, Marcoot said it’s not the first one farmers have faced, and she’s confident it won’t be the last.

“Generally speaking, farmers are pretty stubborn, and they’re pretty innovative. Not that other people aren’t — we just are pretty determined to figure it out.”

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