EVANSVILLE, Ind., Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Millions of gallons of fresh milk from the U.S. Department of Agriculture are arriving at food banks for the first time.
After the USDA announced its intention to buy $50 million worth of liquid milk for "those in need" in August, food banks all over the country are beginning to receive the bounty.
"It's a lot of milk," said Danny Akright, a spokesman for the Food Bank of Iowa, which received more than 1,500 gallons in February and will receive 1,500 more in March.
"We are happy to get milk," Akright said. "It's something not a lot of people donate. So milk is definitely popular. The people who utilize food pantries jump at the chance to bring milk home when it's available."
Like other food banks, Akright said the Food Bank of Iowa plans to enjoy this while it lasts -- because it's unlikely the USDA will continue distributing milk indefinitely.
The agency announced its plan to buy between 12 million and 15 million gallons of milk about the same time it launched a seperate program to purchase foods that are going unsold because of the trade war with China. Food banks across the country are now bursting with meat and produce that normally would shipped to China if not for high retaliatory tariffs.
Although the USDA said the milk purchase was not part of its trade relief program, it served a similar role for the dairy industry, which has suffered like other agricultural concerns from the America's various trade disputes.
The dairy industry estimates farmers lost more than $1 billion in income in 2018 because of retaliatory tariffs placed on dairy by various trading partners, according to the National Milk Producers Federation.
China placed a 25 percent retaliatory tariff on several U.S. dairy imports in July, including milk powder, cheese, whey, yogurt, butter, fluid milk and cream. Before the tariffs, China had been America's second largest importer of dairy products.
"Milk is an unusual product to get from the USDA," Akright said. "This was impacted by the tariffs, even if they're not calling it that. We're considering it a trade commodity. [We] don't envision it becoming a regular thing."
The sudden overabundance of food from the USDA has challenged food banks from Oregon to New York, some of which are receiving twice their usual amount of food.
Milk, with its short shelf life, is especially hard to move.
"Our agencies love it and they're happy to be able to distribute it," said Glenn Roberts, the executive director of the Tri-State Food Bank in Evansville, Ind. "But it has been a tremendous challenge to get it out in time."