Carl Chaney - Dairy on-demand: Keeping shelves stocked
With more pressure being placed on the global food supply chain, the spotlight is on the crucial role of farmers and producers. Carl Chaney of Chaney’s Dairy in Bowling Green, Kentucky, USA, shares his perspective on how the crisis is impacting his dairy, the industry and consumer perceptions of agriculture.
This episode is part of a special AgFuture series on the impact of COVID-19 on the food supply chain. Join us to hear how those on the frontlines of the global pandemic are working to overcome adversity and feed the world.
The following is an edited transcript of Michelle Michael’s interview with Carl Chaney. Click below to hear the full audio.
Michelle: Hello! I'm Michelle Michael. In this special series of AgFuture, we're talking with those working along the food supply chain about the impact of COVID-19. My guest today is Carl Chaney from Chaney's Dairy in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Now, Carl, you pasteurize the milk on your farm from your cows. That allows you to sell fluid milk (and) make value-added products such as cheese, yogurt and, a very important part of your business, ice cream that is made with the milk from your cows.
Carl: Yes, ma'am.
Michelle: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe you're the only place in Kentucky making ice cream that comes from your own milk.
Carl: That is exactly right.
Michelle: Now, Kentucky, of course, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases — they're rising, but at a slower rate than some other states. Carl, are you staying sane in these times of social distancing? And what does that mean on a farm? Is it business as usual?
Carl: It's pretty close to business as usual. I have heard where some farmers are being asked to not be around the barn when people come up to pick up the milk. For us, that has not been a problem. Part of our milk still goes off-farm, and right now, we're at about three days' worth of milk production that we process ourselves.
Michelle: Can you explain to us what your day-to-day is like right now in the dairy business?
Carl: Sure. Right now, like I said, it's not changing a whole lot, and I suspect quite a bit of agriculture is that way. I get up every morning. The first thing I do is I try to scrape the slabs. I try to feed the cow, stir the pack, I will grind feed during the day, and then you do it again in the evening. I've got my niece, Dory, that takes care of the calves. I guess the part that concerns us more than anything is that, whenever you go off-farm, what are you subjecting yourself to? I know, when we deliver milk, one of my questions is: are we safe? Are we safe to go into the grocery store, take milk, put milk on the shelves?
Now, I'll tell you: what we're doing is we're not talking to very many people. Whenever we get back to the truck after every store, then, we take wipes and wipe off our hands, wipe off the steering wheel, anything that we can think of. Because my wife and I both — I'm 66. I won't tell you her age, she might not appreciate that, but she's a little younger than me. We're in that age group to where I think we have to be very careful.
Michelle: Especially in terms of agriculture, this is really an unprecedented situation. I have heard from other producers that there is a significant increase in demand for eggs and milk, in particular. What are farmers focusing on in the dairy world right now? And how are they meeting that demand, if there is an increase?
Carl: Well, like, for us, our cows, we've got a Lely robot, and the robot is really doing a great job. Our Jerseys are averaging about 70 pounds of milk a day, and our focus is on trying to have as much milk as possible every day so that we can have plenty of product, whether it's for the gentleman that picks up our milk or it's for ourselves, to make sure we have some. About a week, a week and a half ago was when the big push was for milk. I saw, I think, where a lot of the stores are running out of milk. I think this week has not been as bad. I think everybody was kind of caught off guard, and I think, now, the supply chain has been restocked.
Michelle: In your opinion, do you see lessons in agriculture right now that we can take away from this situation in regards to how the food supply works?
Carl: What I'm seeing right now is I think people now are more appreciative. We do agritourism here on the farm. Last year, we had almost 14,000 people come down to the farm to see the cows, to see how the milk is produced. Unfortunately, for us, now, we've closed that down. We're not letting people come down to the farm because I think there are still a lot of things that we just don't know. That has always been a very important thing to us. But I think, now, as we're going into the stores, we're finding people that are very, very appreciative of what we do. I thank people because we are able to see the consumer, where most dairy farmers are not able to. They produce a product, the co-op picks it up and then it goes on the shelf. Our face is on the milk, more or less, when they pick it up, so they know us and they talk to us, which is really nice. Right now, there's a very nice, big appreciation — not just for us, but, I think, for all of agriculture, all of dairy farms.
Michelle: When things return to normal, will you be forced to make changes to your operation based on the impact of the outbreak now or any insights that you might have gained from it?
Carl: Well, of course. Like with the agritourism, that's a big part of our business. We will make sure that we have a buffer built in because, right now, up at our ice cream store/restaurant, our revenues are about 20%, considering what they were last year at this time. So, what we're trying to do is we're trying to keep all of our employees as best as we can and keep them working, because this will be over. This will come to an end, and when that happens, we need to be ready to ramp up pretty quickly, I think.
I think it's like people who went through the Depression. They always had that in the back of their minds. My dad was one. He would never throw away anything. I don't think I understood that, but you know, I think I'm beginning to understand a little bit better now what they went through from what we've gone through and what we'll look to in the future.
Michelle: Absolutely. Just going back to something you said previously, you mentioned that people feel more appreciative right now. Have you seen any particular instances of how this situation is impacting the way people perceive agriculture, either from a governmental perspective or from the consumer perspective?
Carl: Well, it's the same thing. Whenever there's a snowstorm, milk and bread, that's what everybody talks about. Well, this is managed, but to a worse situation, and so people have had to do without. When you do without, then you respect more what you didn't have. I think, now, these folks — and I mean, again, there was one night we went out and delivered milk. At one store, we had two people that stopped and said, "We really appreciate everything you all are doing to keep milk on the shelves." I'm fortunate that I get to hear that. I wish every dairy farmer that's out there, I wish they could have heard that. I wish they could hear that, “Hey, what you all are doing is important and we appreciate you.” Because you don't really appreciate anything until you don't have it. It's just the way it is.
Michelle: At the end of the day, you hit the nail on the head there. It seems that, right now, people are talking about healthcare workers as heroes. They're talking about truck drivers as heroes. Right now, I'd put farmers and producers into that same category. What are your thoughts on that? To hear the people say thank you — how does it make you feel?
Carl: Well, it just makes you feel like all of this work that we dairy farmers have been doing every day, every day of the year, for the last five, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 years, it's finally like, well, we appreciate that you now thank us for what we're doing, but we've been doing this. We do this every day of the year. We don't do this just when you're short a meal. We're taking care of these cows every day. So, I don't think people understand that, and I don't think they appreciate that.
Most of the people that come to the farm, they don't, they still don't get it. The kids, they don't get it that we milk the cows. Most farmers are milking their cows twice a day every day. I tell people we milked in a barn for 54 years, a barn that we milked in twice a day every day for 54 years, and we never missed a milking. People are just like, "You’ve got to be kidding me." I'm like, "Yes, it's what we do. It's our life."
Michelle: Right now, what you're seeing on social media is so much about this panic buying, the empty shelves. What message do you have for consumers here in the U.S., or right here in Kentucky? Should people be worried that milk is disappearing altogether anytime soon? Is there enough out there?
Carl: Yeah, there's plenty of milk. I think the biggest problem was that this caught everybody off guard. It caught us off guard. We checked the shelves, we delivered milk on Friday, we checked the shelves on Sunday, and the shelves were in good shape. Monday, when they shut down in Kentucky, when they shut down the restaurants, it scared everybody. By Monday night, I had a friend call me and said, "Hey, why don't you have any milk over at the store?" And I said, "Well, we do." And he said, “There's not a gallon or a half gallon on the shelf.” That night, we went and we delivered milk.
I think it caught everybody off guard. What we're seeing this week, now, it's a little bit more back to normal. I think people have had a chance — the processing plants, the truckers and everybody now have had a chance to catch their breath, see what the need is, get it out there. I don't think that there's the problem that there was last week.
Michelle: All around the world right now, in the middle of all this crisis, we have heard lots of stories about just random acts of human-kindness during these times of struggle. Have you heard any stories like that in Bowling Green or from any of your other friends who farm? Have you heard anything special happening in the world of agriculture that we have not heard about yet?
Carl: Well, it's just, I think there's lots of people out there that, when they see an opportunity — I know now that the schools are closed. We had a lady that's actually a family member, and she was talking about how her school, how they were doing, like, grab-and-go, where they fix lunches for the kids and the kids drive by in cars, their parents drive by in their cars, and they hand it to them, grab-and-go. So, we were fortunate enough to be able to supply some milk for them. Because especially when it was short, I think there was a panic, and I think this kind of let people know, you know what, every farmer will probably have a chance to do something. That was our chance. We're also looking at other ways, because we all can do more.
We're fortunate that we're out here in a rural area. The people that live in the cities, I really worry about them, but this hits everywhere. It doesn't hit just a city. It will hit rural areas also, so we all have to be very careful.
Michelle: It almost seems, at this time, it's a real reminder that — I've heard from producers all around the world that people think milk comes from the grocery store, that bread comes from the grocery, that eggs come from the store. Is this a reminder of what goes on behind the scenes?
Carl: Oh, for sure. But all of us need a wake-up call every now and then. It's like I've always said: There are things I don't appreciate. Every morning when I get up, what do I do? I go over and cut the light switch on. I expect electricity. I expect the lights to come on. I go over to the sink; I cut the water on. Water comes right through the pipe. It's just like, now, consumers go to the grocery store. Milk is not there. Oh, my gosh, well, what if I went one morning to cut the lights on and the lights didn't come out? What if the water didn't come through the pipe? Now, we all are getting an opportunity to say, “Hey, everybody is important, and we all have to do our job.”
Michelle: Carl Chaney, we certainly appreciate everything you're doing to keep milk on the shelves. You're from Chaney's Dairy in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Carl: You're so welcome.
Michelle: For additional resources on COVID-19, visit alltech.com.