It’s a sad reality that families across the United States rely on the goodwill of foodbanks to help them put food on the table. And historically, there’s been one product missing or in short supply on food bank shelves: milk.

To help families gain access to milk – and all the nutritional benefits it delivers – IDFA and MilkPEP joined with Feeding America to connect milk processors with food banks through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fluid Milk Purchase Program. In the program’s first year, USDA announced funding of $135 million dollars for dairy and fresh milk to be delivered to food banks. This development--the first such purchase including milk--was a boon for food banks considering milk is their most in-demand product. 

IDFA and Feeding America recently met with USDA Under Secretary Bruce Ibach, AMS Administrator Bruce Sommers and staff to provide feedback on the program’s first year. There’s a lot that is working well – namely the feedback we’ve heard from Feeding America and from families who are able to give their kids fresh fluid milk.

We’ve heard very positive comments from milk processors about USDA staff’s outstanding assistance with their questions for the vendor approval and bid solicitation process. The industry really appreciates that the Agricultural Marketing Service has already implemented a number of changes, which has greatly improved the process including a monthly economic price adjustment that modifies prices paid to the processor based on raw milk costs changes.

Most important are the comments from food bank visitors who are grateful to have access to fresh, nutritious milk.

However, as with any program, there is always room for improvement. Over a series of discussions and meetings, IDFA members have offered suggestions. Here are five suggestions from IDFA members to support USDA's efforts to continually improve this important initiative:

  1. Change bidding metrics for ½ gallon: Bids for gallons of milk are by 4 units per case, but one-half gallon of milk is considered as one case.
  2. 6-month vs 3-month bid solicitation cycles: Dairies would like USDA to consider longer bid cycles. In addition to reducing paperwork, it would help in a processor's ability to pick up used milk crates as they are delivering to a single location over a longer time period. It also helps build relationships between food banks and milk processors.
  3. Clarity regarding delivery location and truckload size: It was suggested that USDA should allow bidding on a partial lot. In large areas, bids tend to be correlated due to some locations being in an out of the way location and USDA wants to ensure that these locations receive milk. As it is now, some deliveries would require an overnight trip, or a 15-hour drive compared to other deliveries in the load that are 45 minutes away.When a second solicitation is needed due to a lack of bids, we suggested that full truck load deliveries be uncorrelated allowing for bids on partial loads.
  4. Standardize order quantity by pallet:The quantity of milk being bid on may not equal a size the processor produces, i.e. the bid ends up being 5 and 2/3rds of a palette. It would be helpful to the processor if orders were in full palette quantities.
  5. Milk case loss: Milk processors participating in this program have reported an inability to recover the plastic milk crates used for delivery, which are used multiple times by the processor. While the losses seem to vary by region, some companies are still losing 50-70% of their milk crates, while others have changed to ship in corrugated boxes. However, these boxes aren’t an option for all processors that only have milk crate packaging equipment. Some milk processors that have lower case losses met with food banks to explain the need for case return and others have used a flyer that goes with the delivery. Some food banks don’t have the carrying capacity to keep the crates, and others were not aware of the need to return the crates. A longer solicitation cycle may be a solution as it allows for a processor to make multiple deliveries and recover crates from earlier deliveries.

The dairy industry, and milk processors in particular, are grateful to have the opportunity to sell their products under this program knowing they are providing nutritious milk to food banks and families in need. IDFA is committed to working with USDA and Feeding America to continue to make the program successful and sustainable.