The loss of food service is forcing perishable food products to pile up, including milk, meat and eggs. John Phipps explains why. ( Farm Journal )

There is an old agronomic saying that a weed is just a plant out of place. It turns out to apply to other things as well – like milk.

“Dairy farmers are dumping milk. So why couldn't they have used this milk for the following

1. Make more cheese

2 . Freeze it for future use 

3. Feed hogs or other animals

4. I'm sure milk could be used or mixed with other food items.

5. It could be used for something that would provide money rather than causing a loss.”

That’s from Rick Kimble in Mitchell, IN.

Thanks for writing. All of your suggestions sound plausible, but like so many other consumer goods, we have specialized production chains so much that even seemingly simple diversions of raw materials like milk to other final products are really hard.

The loss of the food service outlets for mundane foods like bread and pasta is challenging the logistics of otherwise plentiful products. Those systems are designed to be as lean as possible, with almost no spare capacity to ramp up or switch outlets, let alone do it instantly. We mentioned French fries two weeks ago, and your comments show how hard it is to divert more perishable products like milk. While milk availability is rapidly improving, the loss of schools and restaurants cannot be compensated for fully by overloaded groceries and the pipeline backs up. Similarly, eggs are still 60% sold in stores, but their big demand period – Easter – is here and the layers have only one speed. That bottleneck too is rapidly improving.

The most amazing supply story for me, however, is toilet paper. When the jokes started flying around early in this crisis about idiots hoarding TP, I couldn’t imagine what folks were thinking. Although it’s hard to see clearly from this graph, because you have to pay for the numerical market data – only about 30% of TP is normally used at home. The vast bulk is manufactured for institutional use, which is not the same product at all. I don’t know what instinct made shoppers load up on TP beginning in February, but it’s hard to call it stupidity now.

I am amazed the processing and distribution industries are responding as well as they are, and find I am more appreciative than ever of their hard work of often disregarded middlemen in this difficult time. We need to be prepared however for disruptions and extend all the courtesy we can to retailers and fellow consumers. Remember, food waste is just food out of place.