Since the novel coronavirus has made its way to the United States, we have been living under the stay-at-home order, trying to avoid contact with others and washing our hands more often. Many journalists have asked about the impact on our lives as dairy farmers.
    As I’ve tried to make sure the media does not predict the dairy industry is dead, I have been using words carefully in hopes that what they pick from the interview for their stories will not be doom and gloom.
    The cows must be milked and fed. We still have our vet checks every other Monday. The breeder comes out daily at the same time, doing the same things. The hoof trimmer and our nutritionists have been out, too. They know we rely on them, and it is important to keep these relationships going; we all just stand farther apart.
    We have always been biosecure. We work in dirt and in dirty situations. We try not to touch our face and wash our hands often, but now, we are washing more than ever. So, these changes for others was not too hard for us to comply with.
    We have not been hosting any farm tours, schools have closed, and visitors from other places cannot see the cows. We had conversations with the Dane County Dairy Promotion Committee if we will be holding the dairy breakfast in June or postpone until later, or even cancel.    
    I try to bring the conversation to our daughters, Anna and Catherine. They are not attending college and doing online classes instead. Anna was set to graduate this spring, and she will, but will not be able to participate in the commencement ceremony. She has been here working alongside Duane and I, and also planning out areas of the farm she wants to tidy up and organize. This is keeping us busy until field work starts. Catherine has taken on more hours at her job, working with seniors in an assisted living home. Catherine needs to be careful where she goes and wears a mask my sister sewed. Sandy has made hundreds while she is at home. She is a court reporter, and even the courts have shut down.
    With the travel bans, the fuel usage is down because people are staying home. We have bins full of corn that we did not sell for ethanol. Duane is switching his planting program to include more soybean. With the input cost of over $800 per acre for corn, soybean will be a better move for us this season.
    All of these conversations take place during most interviews, but that is not the subject they most want to talk about. They want to talk about the milk. What is happening in the dairy business when farmers have to dump their milk? Do you have to dump your milk? Do you know anyone who does?
    I have tried to steer the word to dispose instead of dump, and I tell them we have been requested to decrease production. We do know others who have to dispose of their milk, and they tend to be farmers that directly ship their milk in tanker trucks.
    In Wisconsin, 90% of the milk from dairy farms goes to cheese plants. Of all that cheese and dairy products, 70% was going to restaurants, schools and universities. The products are not able to be switched to be packaged for family use overnight.
    Wholesale products, such as a 40-pound block of cheese and individual servings of butter, cannot be sold in the retail grocery stores. They do not have the packaging and the labels. The Hinchleys could eat a 40-pound block of cheese, but most families are not going to grab that out of the dairy case at the grocery.
    It is hard for non-farmers to imagine that cows can produce 10 gallons or more of milk a day, and that there is not any place for this milk to go.
    I appeared in an NBC “Today” news story about the dairy industry. They showed farms down south that were tilling their tomatoes and green beans under because the market has disappeared for their products with the cruise lines and restaurants closed. This is a whole food industry disruption, and changes need to be made quickly to help farmers, but also get the food to those who need it.
    The next morning, I had a woman call me from Louisiana. She was disturbed about what she saw on her TV. She wanted to know why this was happening when she saw the milk being spilled on the milkhouse floor going down the drain.
    “Can’t that milk go to the needy? There are so many hungry people that need that milk.”
    I explained to her about the volume of food that farmers grow, and that we all work very hard every day to make sure it is available. But to no fault of our own, we have been hit by this bump in the chain.
    She wanted to know why people could not come to the farms with their milk jugs. We milk 240 cows, and they make over 2,000 gallons every day. The volume of milk we all produce is too much for the common person to understand. I wanted to tell her that farmers value safety, and our milk from every farm is sampled and tested before it is pasteurized to be certain it is safe. I ended the conversation with her on a positive note. She was blessing all of us farmers for working so hard to feed everyone. I assured her that it is going to take some time, and things will change to help get the food to those in need.
    I wish I had insight to the future, because days later I learned that the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection have joined forces with the state’s leading anti-hunger organization, Hunger Task Force, to help provide relief to the growing numbers of underfed and unemployed by connecting milk to emergency food organizations throughout the state.
    This is the start of things to come to help get food to those in need. There are many programs beginning to help the farmers through these hard times. I am watching the newspapers, social media and programs on TV to see what direction we need to go to get financial help on our farm. We are all in this together.
    Tina Hinchley, her husband, Duane, and their daughters, Anna and Catherine, milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots. They also farm 2,300 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wisconsin.  They have been hosting farm tours for over 20 years.