Two major milk distributors in North Dakota abruptly closed last week due to workforce and financial issues.

The owners of Lakeview Dairy in Devils Lake and Red River Dairy in Fargo shut their businesses down, causing 44 school districts to lose their regular milk deliveries.

Prairie Farms in Bismarck and Kemps/Cass Clay in Fargo, joined by a grocer who partnered with a retired dairy distributor, are working to ensure those schools will get deliveries. Local grocery stores are helping other businesses, senior centers and restaurants address the distribution challenge as well, but issues continue.

A shortage of milk isn’t part of the problem, according to the Milk Marketing Board, but rather a short-term shortage of half-pint containers and cancellation of food service delivery contracts. Another issue the businesses cited is a lack of certified drivers.

Since 2017, the number of drivers with a commercial driver’s license (CDL) has declined almost every year, with 2019 as an exception — but only by an increase of 21.

Data from the North Dakota Department of Transportation

Despite a state decline in CDL holders and a decline in truck drivers nationally, a new federal program with more training requirements to obtain a CDL is coming next month. And while some, like Compliance and Safety Services Manager at True North Compliance Services Kelly Krapu, believe it’s a good step, she says the timing is off.

“At its core, it’s a very good rule and I 100% stand behind it. However, in a time that we’re already short of so many truck drivers and our supply chain is in such a critical crisis right now, it’s just poor timing,” Krapu said.

To help statewide, Gov. Doug Burgum and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring announced an executive order with emergency measures.

For the next 30 days, hours of service requirements are waived for truck drivers delivering milk, and drivers who previously had a CDL but allowed it to expire won’t be required to go through the new federal requirements to renew their CDL and return to driving, according to NDDOT Director Bill Panos.