Metzger discusses food-supply chain

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SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — There are about 2,000 small family farms in New York State Senator Jen Metzger’s district, which includes all of Sullivan County and parts of Delaware, Orange and Ulster counties. Metzger, who is chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee held one of her community conversations on Facebook on May 21 with Maire Ullrich of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orange County. 

Ullrich talked about the milk-dumping that occurred early on in the pandemic. She said, “There’s always a little bit of milk-dumping that occurs. It doesn’t usually happen in New York because we have such a large population to consume it.” She said that, in 2017, U.S. residents began spending more money on food consumed outside the home than on food consumed inside the home.

Although, in terms of tonnage, 75 percent of tonnage is consumed inside the home and only 25 percent outside because food consumed outside the home is more expensive. In any case, when Americans suddenly began eating almost no food outside the home, it totally changed the distribution system and “the system wasn’t prepared.”

“Our food system runs on a dime. It is a super-efficient, fined-tuned thing with just-in-time delivery for highly perishable things like meat, milk and vegetables,” and the pandemic caused significant disruption. She said the milk that was dumped could not be distributed to people who need it, for various reasons, including that the milk had not been pasteurized. 

Packaging was also a problem. Ullrich said more sour cream, for instance, is consumed outside the home than inside, so when the restaurants all closed, distributors were left with a large supply of two-gallon containers of sour cream which would could not be transferred to grocery stores which typically sell eight-ounce or 16-ounce containers of sour cream.

She said the demand for grocery stores increased significantly. In one week in March, sales in grocery stores increased by 77 percent over sales in the same week a year earlier. 

Ullrich said that farmers who sell their products directly to consumers through farm stands or farmers’ markets have been able to manage the pandemic better than others. “This is actually a little boom for them,” because people who went to grocery stores weren’t finding the products or quality that they wanted, and because customers are concerned about contact with other people.

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