(WKBN) – More than 100 dairy farms across eight states could go out of business after receiving letters, saying Dean Foods no longer needs their milk.
The local dairy farming industry as a whole has taken a hit in recent years, with profits being lower than the cost to run and larger businesses going elsewhere to get their milk.
Farmers say the days of driving down the road and seeing farms and cows owned by your neighbor could quickly become a thing of the past.
“People don’t know whether they’re shipping milk today, or tomorrow, or next week or if they’re done tomorrow morning when they go to the mailbox,” said Betsy Musser, of Musser Farms in Enon Valley.
The farmers WKBN talked to all described today’s dairy farming the same way — a struggle.
“You do what you have to do,” said Howard Withers, of Honeycreek Farm in Petersburg. “When you have profit, you just have to manage your money so that you can survive when you have lean times and, usually, the lean times are more often than the good times.”
The price of milk has stayed the same, while costs have gone up. Some independent farms have joined co-ops just to stay in business, but even that isn’t a guarantee.
Dean Foods Company released the following statement about its business decisions:
Unfortunately, Dean Foods has made the difficult decision to end milk procurement contracts with a number of farmers in about 90 days. We regret this decision had to be made.These contracts will end on May 31, 2018. Affected farms were notified the week of Feb. 26. Our decision was an incredibly difficult one and a step that we worked very hard to avoid.A little over 100 farmers were notified. The farms affected are located in Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina. Our field representatives are serving as a conduit of additional resources to dairy farms during these challenging times. Additionally, we will provide farmers with resources to help them connect with counselors if needed. It’s important to note we still buy milk that comes from approximately 12,000 farms across the country, including Ohio.Many factors, including a surplus of raw milk at a time when the public already is consuming less fluid milk and companies assertively entering or expanding their presence in the milk processing business, have exacerbated an already tenuous situation in a highly competitive market.
- Americans drink about 3 gallons less milk per person per year just since 2010; per capita consumption is down about 11 gallons since 1975.
- The U.S. dairy industry is currently producing about 350 million more gallons of milk each year than the year before.
- The introduction of new plants at a time when there is an industry-wide surplus of fluid milk processing capacity forced us into this position.
- Further, competition for milk volume has increased and Dean Foods lost volume at higher levels than anticipated.These factors have pushed Dean Foods to make this tough decision. The fluid milk market has always been competitive, but we’re in unprecedented times. These things coming together have put all of us in the situation we find ourselves today.
Come May 31, many of the farms that sold to Dean Foods will have to find another buyer.
“There’s no processors to take all of those producers, so where do you find a home for all these cows?” Musser said.
The impact doesn’t stop at the farms. Should more farms be put out of business, the entire community would see a trickle-down effect.
“If this farm weren’t here, it would affect myself, the veterinarian, the building companies locally, it affects the hardware stores,” said Lisa Bower, a cow nutritionist.
The farmers said while they’re unsure of the future of dairy farming, the family tradition of generation after generation owning these farms is what keeps them doing the work.
“It’s a way of life, it’s not a living. We do get paid for it but if we didn’t love it, we wouldn’t do it because it isn’t the easiest job in the world,” said Cassie Rassau, Musser’s daughter.
You can find out where that jug of milk in your fridge came from through an online search tool.
This story is corrected to show that the Dean Foods contract affects 100 dairy farms across eight states, not locally.