Organic Dairy Farms Hit Hard by Recession

By Robin Shreeves
May 29, 2009
After years of organic dairy farming being a profitable business, the recession is threatening to put an end to many of the farms that provide organic milk to the dairy conglomerates that distribute their milk. The conglomerates don’t need as much organic milk anymore because many people have stopped buying it. The New York Times reports that many New England dairy farms are close to shutting down. Some already have. The downturn has happened quickly.
For those farmers, the promises of going organic — a steady paycheck and salvation for small family farms — have collapsed in the last six months. As the trend toward organic food consumption slows after years of explosive growth, no sector is in direr shape than the $1.3 billion organic milk industry. Farmers nationwide have been told to cut milk production by as much as 20 percent, and many are talking of shutting down.
Many organic dairy farmers are having their contracts cut, and while they have been profitable for a few years, plenty of those farms still have the debt from going organic.
For many farmers, the changes coincide with crushing debt resulting from the cost of turning organic, which can run hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition, the price of organic feed has doubled in the last year. Credit has dried up for some, and others say it is nearly impossible to sell cows and so thin their herds.
I certainly don’t want to tell anyone they have to buy organic milk in the face of tough economic times. I would like to suggest, though, that those of us who have been committed to buying organic milk and other dairy products try to find a way to continue to buy at least some. It may help some of the farmers, and it may help ensure that when this economic crisis is over there will still be organic dairy farmers to buy from.
Here are some ideas. Maybe one of them will work for you.
  1. Buy one gallon of organic milk a week and the rest conventional.
  2. If you have kids, buy organic for them and conventional for you. I know not everyone is convinced about the negative effects of the synthetic hormones and antibiotics in conventional milk, but this is one area where I err on the side of caution when it comes to my boys. I’m not willing to take the chance.
  3. Buy organic, but cut back on your milk consumption. Perhaps instead of a second glass of milk at dinner, the second glass can be water.
  4. Take a look at the price of other organic dairy products that you might now usually buy in organic form like yogurt, cheeses or butter. If their prices are comparable to the conventional, buy them in organic form.
  5. Bite the bullet and buy organic milk. Find a way to save money in some other area.

This article originally appeared on Mother Nature Network.

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