Over the weekend the Washington State Dairy Federation sent out a release appealing for help for the dairy farmers that already have dealt with livestock losses, stranded cattle and workers unable to reach farms or having to deal with their own flood damage.
The current problem now is getting feed to the farms.
One of the main providers of dairy feed, EPL Feed plant in Sumas, shut down because of damage from the flooding. Disruptions at BNSF rail lines also have contributed to supply chain issues, according to the federation.
If those disruptions continue, it could mean a portion of the more than 40,000 cows in Whatcom County are in danger of not getting enough feed. A survey done by the federation indicated that many farmers had one to two days left of feed remaining, and that grains are most needed right now.
By Monday, Nov. 22, there was some optimism as the EPL Feed plant was making good progress toward getting reopened and many members of the community stepped up by offering trucks and drivers to help transport feed to the farms.
“It’s really been heartwarming to see the community step up and rally around the farmers,” said Fred Likkel, executive director at Whatcom Family Farmers in a phone interview.
One of the bigger challenges for EPL, right now, has to do with getting raw material once it is up and running.
The company gets a lot of that product by rail, something that was damaged in Sumas. Likkel said he had heard the work getting the rail back also was going well.
“By the end of the week we may be in a better place,” Likkel said.
In the meantime Likkel and others have been organizing truck transportation in order to get grain to the farms. Likkel said he’s had many calls offering assistance, including one from a long-haul truck driver who was home for Thanksgiving break willing to help transport feed.
“There’s a real can-do attitude around here, so the response has been wonderful,” Likkel said.
Another significant challenge is what the workers are currently going through. Many are dealing with damage at their own homes in addition to trying to get back to work. Likkel said work also is being done in that area, including opening some of the worker housing usually slated for the berry harvest season as temporary housing.
Dairy is the biggest farm industry in Whatcom County. According to the 2017 federal agriculture census report, which comes out every five years, Whatcom dairy farmers tallied $180.5 million in milk sales.
▪ Cash donations: The state dairy federation has established an assistance fund to help cover costs of transportation, cleanup, repairs and supplies to dairy farmers. Checks can be written to Washington Dairy Federation, with “emergency fund” as a note on the check. Mail to P.O. Box 1768, Elma, Washington, 98541. A GoFundMe account also is being set up.