« Previous  
 Next »

Krupp: Endangered Dairy

04/01/10 5:55PM By Ron Krupp
 MP3   Download MP3 

(HOST) While diversification and the "buy local" movement are helping many small farms, commentator Ron Krupp says small dairy farms are still struggling.  

(KRUPP) There's a lot of news these days about the growing number of young Vermont farmers who are supplying their neighbors with vegetables, bread, eggs, meat, and cheese. Between 2002 and 2007, direct sales to consumers from Vermont farms more than doubled, from $9.6 million to $22.9 million.
 
But it's critical to point out that these sales pale in comparison to total milk sales, which in 2007 totaled $518 million. Dairy farming has been the backbone of agriculture in the state for decades. A veterinarian from Addison County told me that some dairy farmers have been upset with all the emphasis on local this and local that, while they're going out of business in record numbers due to low milk prices.
 
The plight of the Vermont dairy farmer and why they're becoming an endangered species is simple. For the past 25 years, milk prices have remained low resulting in the decline in dairy farms. There are now only about 1,000 dairy farms left in the state.
 
The Federal Milk Marketing Order sets a minimum price on milk for dairy farmers. And you can't stay in business for long if you're receiving $14 for a hundred pounds of milk and it costs you $18 to produce that milk. Consolidation at the retail and wholesale level have created a system where farmers have little control over what they receive.
 
The plight of family dairy farms in Vermont parallels that of other dairy states across the U.S. The exceptions are the large mega-dairies in California and the West, where the average herd size is 1,000 milkers. Some dairy operations milk upwards of 5,000 cows three times a day. The Western mega-farms produce an over-abundance of milk and are one of the main reasons the smaller New England family farms are going out of business. Their large size makes it possible for them to flood the market with "cheap milk."  
 
There is talk of radical change in the Federal Milk Marketing Order by using a supply-side management pricing system where farmers produce only the amount of milk needed. This would discourage the over-production of milk and result in higher milk prices for the family farm.  
 
As we lose our dairy farms, there is the forfeiture of a rural way of life and the supporting infrastructure, such as the local farm machinery dealer and the seed and grain company. With the loss of these farms, Vermont loses another piece of its history and cultural identity.
 
Hopefully, the future will bring more local farm and food initiatives along with fair and stable milk prices for the family dairy farm in the Green Mountains.
comments powered by Disqus
Supported By
Become an Underwriter | Find an Underwiter