Kendra Anderson Q & A

Kendra Anderson, manager of farmer relations at Midwest Dairy, grew up in Stephenson County in northwestern Illinois showing Holstein heifers through 4-H, which fueled her passion for the dairy industry. She followed that passion to Iowa State University in Ames, where she majored in dairy science. 

After eight years as Mercer County Farm Bureau manager, she got back into the dairy business with Midwest Dairy in 2019.

Anderson said Midwest Dairy is funded by farmers across a 10-state region, including Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. As part of the national dairy checkoff, the group focuses on dairy promotion, nutrition education and research. Its “Fuel Up to Play 60” collaboration with the NFL focuses on children’s health.

During the COIVID-19 shelter-in-place order in Illinois, Anderson is working from home in Alpha, Illinois, with her 18-month old son, Colin. Her husband, Jake, is an ag lender at a community bank in Galva.

IFT: How has the pandemic affected normal operations over and above staff working from home? 

ANDERSON: We have been able to continue to work towards our mission and vision of “Bringing Dairy to Life.” While we’ve had a few cancellations, we have increased our virtual visits and phone calls to dairy producers, substituting on-farm visits. Our wellness work in the schools has also shifted to provide online learning opportunities through “Fuel up to Play 60” and “Discover Dairy”. Our staff has worked tirelessly to support local school districts by supplying milk cooler bags to ensure kids are still being fed. We look forward to celebrating National Dairy Month with several of our retail partners and look forward to the day we can engage with consumers face to face.

IFT: How are dairy producers impacted by COVID-19? 

ANDERSON: Because consumers are now preparing and eating most of their meals at home, demand for dairy products at retail has skyrocketed. The supply chain is catching up to meet this demand, so you should see dairy more readily available at the grocery stores in the coming weeks. 

At the same time, while retail sales are up, net dairy consumption is down across all other sectors of the supply chain, including food service, institutional (schools, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.) and food manufacturing.

The shuttering of establishments like restaurants, cafes, bars, cafeterias, schools and catering businesses has left an unfillable void where market analysts estimate around half of butter and cheese is consumed. These sudden changes, along with other uncertainties, have forced some dairy manufacturers to cut or change production schedules or build inventories. 

Additionally, processing needs for non-retail dairy channels are highly specialized and extremely difficult to quickly repurpose for retail use. For example, a facility producing for the foodservice channel may process cheese in 40-pound blocks or frozen pellets, making it difficult to immediately convert it for retail purposes. The factories that are open and built for retail dairy production are already at capacity.

Because of these sudden shifts, dairy farmers in some areas of the country are producing more milk than processors can handle. As a temporary last resort, some co-ops are asking dairy farmers to periodically dispose of milk to adjust supplies to processing capacity. At this time, many farm owners continue to receive payment, even if they have to dispose of their milk.

The entire value chain is working together to explore additional options in schools, food banks, foodservice and retail to get dairy products into the hands of children and families during this unprecedented time.

IFT: How are Midwest Dairy and dairy farmers helping others at this challenging time?

ANDERSON: Midwest Dairy, along with local dairy councils across the country, have been providing resources to many school districts faced with unprecedented challenges delivering food to students, but the need is growing, especially those in the rural areas. Food banks are also seeing massive increases in demand from students unable to access school meals and families faced with food insecurity. We are working with our partners, GENYOUth and Feeding America, to increase awareness and drive action, including:

  • Working with manufacturers to send equipment to schools such as soft cooler bags, breakfast carts and more to ensure food stays fresher, longer.
  • Leveraging partnerships in the food, retail and media space to secure product and monetary donations to fund programs.
  • Staff and dairy producers are volunteering their time at food banks and shelters across the nation.
  • Midwest Dairy is also offering Community Relief Grants to support refrigeration needs of local food pantries. Dairy farmers connect with local food pantries to find out needs for refrigeration to keep dairy foods safe. They can then apply for a grant to directly support their local community.   

IFT: Do you have any cooking tips for people, now eating at home more, and getting tired of the same old recipes?

ANDERSON: We have been working closely with our retail partners, ag coalition groups and farmer funders to provide recipes and dairy resources to share with consumers. Recipes are available online at www.usdairy.com/recipes.

IFT: Is there anything else you would like our Midwestern crop and livestock farmers to know?

ANDERSON: There are many ways you can help to make a difference. Donate to www.GiveAGallon.org, a partnership with MilkPEP and Feeding America. Type in your zip code to donate milk to a food bank in your own community. Visit www.GENYOUth.org to make a monetary donation to fund breakfast carts and school grant programs that get equipment and food to those who need it.

Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.