Experts: Coronavirus could threaten economy, dairy industry

Published: Feb. 5, 2020 at 7:03 PM CST
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Concern over coronavirus is not just a health issue but an economic one as well. With travel restrictions caused by risk of spreading the disease, exports to and from China have been impacted.

Mark Stephenson, Director of Dairy Policy Analysis at UW-Madison says Wisconsin is one of the biggest producers of dairy and China is the world’s largest importer.

"Markets don't like uncertainty and this looked like one of the things that could certainly have an impact on trade," said Stephenson.

Stephenson works in the department of Agricultural and Life Sciences. He studies milk and dairy prices, dairy policy and dairy trade and world markets.

He says when the markets heard about coronavirus and the issues in China, it became a concern with how that would impact the economy.

Stephenson says prices of milk futures have gone down recently amid all of this.

"The big product that we've sold to China from Wisconsin has been whey products. That's a byproduct of cheese making and a very important milk protein," he said.

It’s still unclear if coronavirus concerns will have a long term impact on dairy prices but Stephenson says this is still something consumers should be aware of.

"The dairy industry makes up a significant portion of the economy in this state, contributes something like $45 billion dollars to the state," according to Stephenson.

As China continues to isolate itself to slow the spread of the virus, exports are impacted.

“We've already heard about companies that have their supply lines disrupted, parts manufactured in China that would be coming here, products that we would sell that would be going there and as those begin to get disrupted,” Stephenson says.

He says this raised questions about if the interruption in China’s general economy will disrupt their ability or their desire to buy dairy products.

Other industries are seeing the concern. The coronavirus outbreak prompted Disney to suspend operations at some of its facilities in china last month which could cost the company more than $200 million.