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Dozens of N.D. school districts face milk shortage over lack of delivery drivers

State officials have notified the districts, many in the eastern part of the state, that there may not be enough milk cartons for daily school lunch programs.

About 50 school districts in rural parts of North Dakota are in danger of not having milk because of a shortage of dairy truck drivers, officials said.

Gov. Doug Burgum signed an executive order last week allowing delivery drivers to work more hours while putting together a plan to recruit more people to transport half-pint milk containers.

“Milk supply chain issues are a critical concern in rural communities across the state,” Burgum, a Republican, wrote in his order. “The statewide shortage of commercial drivers, together with the nationwide supply chain disruptions have challenged nutrition programs in our K-12 public schools, childcare centers and other congregate meal settings.”

Image: Milk for students at a school cafeteria.
Milk for students at a school cafeteria.Hans Pennink / AP file

State officials have notified the school districts, many of which are in the eastern part of the state, that they may not be able to get them enough milk for daily school lunch programs. Some businesses such as restaurants are also being affected.

“We’re not short of milk. We’re just short of the means to get it to folks,” said Lance Gaebe, director of the North Dakota Milk Marketing Board, a state agency overseeing milk distribution and pricing.

He said a former milk supplier has come out of retirement to help distribute to grocery stores where school districts can pick up milk.

The American Trucking Associations, an industry group, estimates a national shortage of 80,000 drivers, many of which are transporting industrial goods and agricultural products like milk.

The group said there are several factors for the shortage, including the pandemic, which has caused some drivers to leave the industry, in addition to trucking schools training fewer drivers since 2020. It recommends higher wages and regulatory changes to draw workers to the industry.

The governor’s emergency measure came after a major milk distributor in North Dakota went out of business partly because of a lack of certified drivers and financial issues.

The order “would ensure that motor carriers and drivers can secure, obtain, transport and deliver fluid milk supplies to meet the needs of citizens,” Burgum wrote.

The North Dakota Milk Marketing Board has also waived some enforcement licensing requirements to attract more drivers.

North Dakota has 49,858 drivers with commercial driver’s licenses, about 3,000 less than it had five years ago, NBC-affiliate KFYR in North Dakota reported.

In response, Burgum is working with the Department of Transportation to speed up the process of getting a commercial driver’s license to get more truckers on the road, the station reported.