ALBANY,N.Y. (NEWS10/WUTR/WFXV/WPNY)—While there isn’t shortage of milk here in New York State, across the country there is a supply chain issue with half-pint milk cartons.
“We are supplying the schools with milk,” said Kevin Ellis, CEO of Upstate Niagara Cooperative. “The children are getting the milk. And if we aren’t able to get half-pints, we will have milk in schools in one form or another.”
Upstate Niagara Cooperative represents 260 farmers across the state. According to Ellis, there are only a few suppliers in the United States that produce half-pint cartons, and one of them is facing challenges.
“We had our cartons shorted about 25%,” explained Ellis. “So, that left us in a precarious predicament, where we proactively sent out a letter to all the schools, institutions, and hospitals, that if we ran into supply issues on half pints, we may have to switch to half gallons and gallons—which we have plenty of capacity to do.”
In a letter to School Food Service Providers, New York State’s Education Department notified them of the supply chain disruption and allowed for milk to be poured from larger containers into individual cups. The letter also said during this time, one type of milk can be offered instead of a variety, and that other forms such as low-fat, fat- free, and lactose-free milk can be used as an alternative. As a last resort, milk isn’t given at all.
The Department of Education also advises that juice cannot be offered in place of milk. Schools must still adhere to National School Lunch and Breakfast Program requirements, despite the shortage.
“The school milk market is critically important to New York dairy farmers. New York Farm Bureau appreciates the coordinated effort to share resources and guidance to address the milk carton supply shortage,” New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher said in a statement. “New York’s dairy farms continue to produce the nutritious milk that our students need, and we are hopeful that by working together we can ensure it keeps flowing to the students who need it.”
The Education Department is also collaborating with the Agriculture Department to make sure the state’s dairy industry doesn’t suffer either. The Agriculture Department has said that they will be coordinating with the International Dairy Foods Association to find additional packaging, as well as ways to escalate the approval of alternative packaging.
“We had one small disruption, we didn’t have enough paperboard to do skim half-pints in one of the Syracuse schools, but we had a substitution,” said Ellis. “All kids are getting school milk at the moment. We are staying in close contact. We were able to find a supply of 5.6 million half-pints. That’s gonna get us through Thanksgiving.”
With schools closing for Thanksgiving, Ellis is hoping that the milk carton supplier will be able to get back on track.
Assemblyman Chris Tague, who supports milk in schools, is open to the idea of switching from milk cartons to plastic bottles.
“If switching to a different type of packaging guideline would be helpful so there are no shortages like this again, I would be all for it,” said Tague.
“While this is not just a New York problem— it is a nationwide problem— it is impacting our schools and their ability to serve New York milk to our students,” State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball said in a statement. “As we continue to learn more about the situation, we have taken immediate steps to bring our industry together and discuss temporary solutions to the packaging paperboard shortage so milk can continue to be a part of our students’ nutrition at school and to limit the impact on dairy farmers.”