MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — The anticipated closure of Borden Dairy’s production facilities in Dothan and Hattiesburg, Mississippi next month has schools across Alabama searching for new milk vendors.
More than 100 public school districts, charter schools and government agencies statewide rely on Borden Dairy.
Alabama’s Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Rick Pate is working with the Department of Education and the Dairy Alliance to secure new suppliers, most of whom are out of state.
“Sadly, we don’t have much dairy industry in Alabama anymore. It used to be, in the rural county Lowndes that I lived in, there were probably 20 to 25 dairies, there’s not a single one left. Most of our milk comes from out of state anyways,” Pate said.
However, Pate is confident that by the time the Borden plant closes on Sept. 30, Alabama schools will have new suppliers.
“It’ll work its way out in a few weeks I would assume,” he said.
In the meantime, expect to see a different drink on cafeteria trays: shelf-stable milk. The Department of Education’s Child Nutrition Program is buying the product, which is set to arrive the week of Sept. 5. It’s pasteurized at a higher temperature, so doesn’t need to be refrigerated.
“It has a longer shelf life. But when it’s chilled ice-cold at the time of service it still tastes just as delicious,” said Jana Miller, a registered dietician with the Dairy Alliance.
Miller said shelf-stable milk is just as nutritious as the other milk, but likely won’t be a long-term solution as many schools have already found new suppliers.
“I’ve talked with several Child Nutrition Directors in the state, and they’ve told me they already have got their milk issue worked out. Others are currently in the bid process, so they are taking the step now and should be fully prepared with delivery from their new supplier by probably the end of September,” she said.
Other districts are still searching. Tuscaloosa City Schools said in a letter to parents that it’s “bracing” for a milk shortage. The district says there are no local dairy producers that can immediately replace the supply Borden provided. They added that families can send milk to school with their students if they choose as the school looks for a new vendor.
The facility closure impacts roughly 422,000 students and more than 736,000 8-ounce cartons of milk each week, according to the Department of Agriculture and Industries.