Cuomo launches Nourish NY Initiative to stop milk dumping

Patrick Grimshaw of Grimshaw Dairy Farm in Adams opens a spigot at the bottom of his Van-Vetter tank holding nearly 15,000 pounds of milk to let the milk run out into a drain April 2. He alone had to dump more than 100,000 pounds of milk over a last week. (Provided photo — Sydney Schaefer, Watertown Daily Times)

In response to many dairy farmers across the upstate region and North Country having to dump their milk due to depleting demand for their products caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the Nourish New York Initiative on Monday.

This new initiative will work to purchase food and products from upstate farms and direct it to food banks across the state.

“This is just a total waste to me,” Cuomo said during his daily COVID-19 news briefing at the state Capitol.

In order to immediately stop the dumping of milk, New York will work with the state’s dairy producers — Chobani, Dairy Farmers of America, Upstate Niagara, Cabot Cheese and others — to process excess milk into products like yogurt, cheese, sour cream and cream cheese, that will be distributed to food banks and those in need.

There is a “tremendous” demand in food banks across the state, the governor said. Across upstate, there is an increase of between 40 to 60%, in Long Island, there is a 40% increase in demand; in New York City, there is a 100% increase; and in Westchester, there is a 200% increase, according to the governor’s office.

“We have people downstate who need food; we have farmers upstate who can’t sell their product. We have to put those two things together; it’s just common sense,” Cuomo said. “But we have to make that marriage between product upstate and need downstate.”

State Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, noted that he had called on the federal government weeks ago to help dairy farms.

“I have been working closely with the North Country Chamber of Commerce and our local farmers to help address the shortage of supplies in grocery stores and food banks and get local farming products on the shelves to address this need, but we need action statewide, with the assistance of our federal partners,” Jones said Monday.

He said he applauds the Nourish New York Initiative but noted that it “comes long after hundreds of thousands of gallons of milk have been wasted, and I refuse to stand idly by and continue to watch the hard-working men and women across this industry struggle.”

As previously reported in the Times on April 3, dairy farmers in Jefferson County alone ship truckloads of raw milk to processing plants. Each truckload carries between 65,000 and 70,000 pounds of milk, and the Jefferson County Bulk Milk Co-op, which has 26 members, had to dump 14 of those truckloads over that week. For the state, it’s estimated between 25 million and 35 million pounds of milk were dumped.

“Everybody had high hopes that this was going to be dairy’s recovery year,” said John Peck, who owns Peck Homestead Farm in Carthage. “Now that has completely crashed, and we’re looking to be worse than we were last year and 2018.”

The Nourish New York Initiative is being led by Kelly Cummings, director of state operations and infrastructure; Richard Ball, commissioner of agriculture; Rossana Rosado, secretary of state; Karim Camara, executive director of the Office of Faith-Based Community Development Services; Fran Barrett, director of nonprofits; and Mike Hein, commissioner of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

Times Staff Writer Ben Muir contributed to this report.


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