KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Dairy farmers in East Tennessee are left wondering what’s next after our country’s largest milk producer files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Earlier in the week, Dean Foods announced plans to reorganize and sell. The State Department of Agriculture took notice, and says this has the potential to significantly impact Tennessee’s dairy industry.
WATE 6 On Your Side’s Elizabeth Kuebel spoke with a local dairy cow owner, Julie Walker, says her cows’ milk is shipped to Mayfield, which is a Dean Foods company. Walker said there’s close to 200 dairy farmers in the state, and she works closely with many of them on a daily basis.
“We’re all in a community together. We go to church together, we go to school together, and this touches all of us to some degree,” said Walker.
Walker says the recent news of Dean Foods, the company also behind Daily Pure, Land O’Lakes and others, filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy leaves uncertainty.
“The immediate reaction was a gut check and news of uncertainty, both short term and long term for dairy farmers in the area,” she said.
The questions left Walker wondering in the immediate future if payment would come for the past 30 days worth of milk. She got some good news there.
“We got notified by an official from Dean Foods about an hour ago that Dean Foods will, in fact, honor those financial obligations to the farmers, so that money will be coming into this community,” said Walker.
But as for what happens next, and the long-term impacts of the milk producer’s announcment, Walker says that’s still up in the air. She’s paying close attention to how it all unfolds.
“This is very much a case of taking one step at a time to work toward a future that hopefully we can control to some degree,” she said.
Walker has a message for consumers who buy milk. She says to keep buying Dean Foods products to help the cash flow going into the milk plant as the bankruptcy is worked through.
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture says it will continue to work with and support local dairy farmers.