A 40% drop: COVID-19 challenges a struggling dairy industry

COVID-19 poses a financial threat to a long-struggling industry.
Posted at 12:55 PM, Jun 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-25 20:06:47-04

HAGERSTOWN, MD. — Michael Forsythe is on the frontlines of America's efforts to keep grocery stores full and food on our tables during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He and his family manage a 166 acre farm, raise 120 cows and maintain a 500 tree orchard in Hagerstown.

They, like many farmers, have felt the rattling effects of the coronavirus.

Michael says over the past few years, the dairy industry has been on the decline. "The dairy industry has been in some pretty difficult times for the last 4 to 5 years. In 2014, we had an outstanding year, since that it’s been a real decline. All the changes that you can [make] have pretty much been done. We’ve already been through a period here of 5 or 6 years of tough times."

COVID-19 poses a financial threat to a long-struggling industry.

Schools and restaurants, two of the biggest consumers of dairy products, have been closed for weeks. During times of decreased demand, farmers receive less money for their offerings.

"In the last several months we’re probably at a 40 percent drop. The last forecast I seen, they’re projecting this to last at least through the summer, 4 or 5 months. Some are saying it could last a year or more. If you lose 40% of your income that’s a tremendous economic loss. And that’s going to be tough to recover," said Michael.

"It's not going to be an overnight fix, it's going to take some time." - Forsythe

The government has allocated funds to help the farming industry rebound. Many farmers have expressed concern about their financial futures.

President Donald J. Trump addressed these concerns in a press conference on May 19, 2020.

He said, "From day one my administration has been determined to protect our nation’s farmers. We have enacted historic tax cuts and helped family farms stay in the family."

"Through the paycheck protection program, we have approved billions of dollars [as] relief for farmers as a part of our unprecedented coronavirus relief efforts. The paycheck has been a fantastic success as you know," the President continued.

But like many of the farmers we interviewed, Michael says he has not received any government funding or assistance.

"We’ve been told there is a dairy relief type package coming out. We haven’t gotten anything from that yet," Michael explained.

The Forsythes have no plans on leaving farming. They have been farming in Hagerstown for over 100 years. It's in their blood.

"One of the good things that comes out of this is maybe a little more appreciation from the general public of what it takes to produce all the food they do have available to them." - Forsythe

"We start at about 4’o clock in the morning.. If you’re not passionate about this there’s no way you’re going to keep it up, 365 days a year," said Michael of the operation.

As for the future, Michael says,"tighten your belt and hope for the best for a while."