Friday, May 25, 2018

Small dairy farmers in 7 states get another month to find buyers, but prospects are poor; Wendell Berry weighs in

A cow looks into the milking room at a Kentucky
farm. (Courier Journal photo by Pat McDonogh)
More than 100 small dairy farmers in Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and three other states are facing doom because they can't find buyers for their milk. Dean Foods informed them in late February that it was terminating contracts because "Walmart no longer will buy Dean’s milk for its Great Value house brand, cutting the production needed at Dean’s Louisville plant, which the company announced will be shut down soon," Grace Schneider reports for the Louisville Courier Journal. "Walmart has started its own production facility in Fort Wayne, Indiana." Dean also cited an increase in milk production and a decrease in milk consumption as reasons for the termination in its letter to the affected dairy farmers.

This week Dean extended its initial May 31 deadline until the end of June, but farmers are still searching for new buyers or talking about forming cooperatives, with no luck so far. Losing these dairy farms could hurt the surrounding communities. Maury Cox, executive director of the Kentucky Dairy Development Council, said each cow generates $14,000 a year in economic impact from veterinary bills, feed, fuel and equipment, Schneider reports.

In a column last month for the Henry County Local, the weekly newspaper in his county, Kentucky author and farmer Wendell Berry suggested farmers should form their own cooperative as tobacco farmers led by his father did decades ago. "The story of Dean Foods’ cancelled contracts is a representative piece of the story of rural America since the 1950s, when Eisenhower’s secretary of agriculture told farmers to 'get big or get out,'" Berry wrote. "And so the story of rural America has been the story of the dispossession of millions of farm families, the disintegration of rural communities, and the destruction of small businesses and small towns."

No comments: