Alabama Dairy Industry Now Unable to Fill Gap for School Milk Progam in the Wake of Borden Closure

With the inevitable closure of the Borden Dairy plant in Dothan, AL,  schools in the area are still looking for alternative suppliers anticipating a district-wide milk shortage. Still, due to the state of Alabama’s dwindling dairy industry, there doesn’t seem to be any alternative solutions in sight.

 Tuscaloosa City Schools said that it is trying to prepare for a milk shortage that will affect the Tuscaloosa School district and more than 100 other school districts in Alabama when these plants shut their doors on September 30th. 

Borden had been supplying most of the 736,000 half-pint cartons of milk to approximately 422,000 students throughout Alabama’s school system across 100 counties each week, according to the Alabama State Department of Education’s Child Nutrition Program.

Tuscaloosa City Schools said their district has about 35,000 half-pint cartons weekly. Tuscaloosa City Schools is looking into other options. Still, there simply are no other local dairy plants that can take on that volume of supply and demand right away, and again, with the dwindling dairy industry throughout Alabama, replacement suppliers are proving to be challenging. 

“If you go back 25, 30 years ago we probably had over 200 dairies in the state. It’s been a steady decline,” said Mitt Walker with the Alabama Farmers Federation. “We do hate to lose that infrastructure. Anytime you lose agribusiness in the state it’s a concern,” he said.

Walker provided some insight as to why the manufacturing plants- one in Alabama and the other in Mississippi- will shut their doors on September 30th. The dairy industry has been on the decline for a while. Still, with environmental regulations, loss of infrastructure, inflation, high gas prices, and other factors, the plants are suffering and unable to continue operations. 

Mitt Walker encourages local communities to support local producers, whether at a farmer’s market or roadside stand. Through ALFA’s ‘Sweet Grown Alabama’ program, consumers can easily find farm-to-table products grown right in the state of Alabama. “You know what you are purchasing is going directly to that local producers. The cost may not always be cheaper, but you know you are getting a locally produced product that is going to be very high quality,” he said.

Tuscaloosa County Schools (TCS)  said the United States Department of Agriculture, the government entity that oversees school lunch programs, has been informed of the dairy closures and, in response, has provided waivers to school districts to support them during the disruption. TCS also said that water is always an available option available to students, and parents are always welcome to send milk from home with their students each day during the shortage. But the problem with this statement is that many of these students are enrolled in school lunch programs designed for low-income families that typically cannot afford milk in the first place. 

Virginia Davis, a Clinical Dietician and Registered Nurse said this could have a significant negative impact if something isn’t done to provide alternatives.

“These children depend on milk for good nutrition. This may be the only two meals that many children who attend Tuscaloosa City Schools get in a day. It’s a really big deal. We need to start looking at adequate substitutions, whether that be calcium from cheese and yogurt or if we switch to more plant-based milks.”

Just two years ago, dairy farmers were dumping milk due to disruptions and shutdowns due to the pandemic. 

 

This story syndicated with permission from For the Love of News



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