2018-06-13 / Opinion

Dairy Industry Continues to Flounder

By Rosie Cunningham

DELAWARE COUNTY - A farmer’s day starts in typical pre-sunrise darkness, milking and feeding herds in barns across the state and the region.

Just because farmers are struggling, does not mean they work less. There are cows to be milked, fences to be mended, birthing emergencies to be handled, chores to be done and hay to be mowed, tedded and planting to be done and much more, on repeat each and every day, multiple times a day.

And dairy farmers are wondering, for what? The attraction of working the land and running a business independently to feed others is certainly losing its draw. Milk prices plummeted in 2015 and there seems to be no end in sight. Diversifying is the common theme, but with no overhead or investment money and mounting debt, this solution is hard to imagine for many.

“The dairy crisis remains a concern for farmers,” said Delaware County Farm Bureau President Duane Martin. “Prices have risen slightly, but they are still far from the highs that we saw four years ago. And for many farms, the cost of production still out paces the milk prices. Ultimately, it comes down to an oversupply of milk as world export markets have shifted for the United States. There is some concern that new tariffs and a talk of a trade war with some key trading partners could make the situation worse for our farmers and drive the price back down.”

On the plus side, New York cheese production is up, said Martin. Total New York cheese production in 2017, excluding cottage cheese, was 861 million pounds, four percent above 2016 production.

“We are also seeing a resurging interest in butter and full-fat dairy products as a more nutritious option,” he said. “Other value-added products like yogurt selections and milk-based energy drinks are expanding as well. People are still interested in dairy despite all the competition. Schools can now serve one percent flavored milk and there is a push to bring back whole milk in schools.”

Martin said he does believe that politicians and awareness helped the matter for farmers.

“There were changes made in January which have opened up payments for farmers who are participating programs in certain programs. The Livestock Gross Margin Program is another risk management option that was recently expanded for dairy farmers. We are now focused on getting some of these changes in the Farm Bill as well. New York State Agriculture and Markets has also reinstated its milk marketing advisory committee.”

Most farmers have already taken the steps they could take to improve efficiency, adjust production level, change their business plans and seek professional help from business consultants, among other things.

“This is a real personal decision based upon each farm’s needs,” added Martin. “One option is to turn to places like PRO DAIRY and NY FarmNet for business advice.”

Rosie Cunningham is married to a dairy farmer who owns and operates Lamport Farms in Hobart.

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