Because of record storms and cold temperatures in Texas, 4 million to 8 million gallons of milk are being dumped daily by the state’s dairies, even as local Kroger and H-E-B grocery shelves empty of milk and other core supplies.
The Railroad Commission of Texas, which has jurisdiction over many of the state’s utilities, had tough decisions to make over the weekend. The historic cold has taxed the power grid to its limit, leaving many households without electricity. On Sunday, commission officials called Rance Miles, chief executive of Select Milk Producers, a dairy cooperative of 115 large family farms mostly in southwest Texas. They told him that his manufacturing plant in Littlefield, which processes 80 tankers daily filled with 50,000 pounds of milk each, would have to shut down. The power grid was so stressed, the commission had to focus on supplying residential customers.
“On Saturday, our natural gas providers said if you continue to run, your cost will go from $3 per dekatherm to $300 per dekatherm because of the shortage,” Miles said. “Our bill would go from $3,000 per day to $300,000, and I said fine, otherwise we’ll have to dispose of that milk and lose $800,000 per day. But they shut us down anyway on Sunday, probably through Thursday.”
Sid Miller, commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture, says that not only are the state’s dairy farmers dumping milk into their wastewater ponds, but feed mills also are shut down because of a lack of natural gas — so poultry and dairy farms can’t get any feed.
“There’s no backup generator for natural gas. There are a lot of dairy cattle that are going to get real hungry by Friday,” Miller said. “I just talked to one farmer feeding his animals his last bale of hay. It’s pretty dire.”
Miller anticipates other shortfalls at the grocery stores: Meat processing plants can’t get enough power to operate right now, feed lots can’t get water and feed to their animals, and freezes may have killed some of the produce in the South Texas winter garden area.
“Meanwhile, we’ve got tremendous demand at the state’s 21 food banks,” Miller said. “They are going to run short.”