Dairy boom or bust
by Enrico Villamaino
The current worldwide pandemic and its consequent economic shutdown are having dire effects on the dairy industry.
Unlike many other agricultural products, milk is perishable and cannot be stored for later sale and consumption. Some local dairy farmers have found the changes they’ve had to make devastating.
Cook Farm has been operating in Hadley, MA, since 1908. According to Gordy Cook, “We’re gonna have to look at trying to cut back production, which is really tough because it’s not like the cows won’t still need milking.” Gordy said the current situation has been particularly hard for his dairy. Many of the restaurants, cruise ships and schools who buy Cook Farm milk are shut down and orders have halted. “We have to dump our excess milk. It’s like the oil business… We’re worried this might have a two-year, rather than two-month, effect on us.”
Chuck Worden, owner of Wormont Dairy in Oneida, NY, is distressed by their loss of revenues. “Right now we’re looking at being three dollars under our break-even point per hundredweight of milk for the next three months,” he said. “I’m looking at every cost to trim whatever I can to see if we can’t break even and ride this thing out.” He said Wormont only employs family members and will not have to lay-off anyone at this point.
Other dairy farms are holding steady, but are uncertain of how long it will last. Kendra Lamb’s family owns and operates Lakeshore Dairy in Niagara, NY. “We sell our milk through Upstate Farms, a cooperative of about 300 family farms,” Kendra explained. “As of now, they haven’t reduced any of our orders, so it’s pretty much been business as usual for our 4,000 cows and 100 employees.” Kendra is concerned that Lakeshore is now selling milk at six dollars less per hundredweight than before the shutdown. Lakeshore is encouraging its employees to make use of their sick time to reduce the risk of infection at the dairy.
However, not everyone is experiencing a slump during this crisis. Stoltzfus Dairy in Vernon Center, NY, is actually enjoying an uptick in business. “We’ve just gone from our slowest time of year to our busiest!” Vern Stoltzfus, who has over 75 wholesale accounts, mostly to smaller retail locations throughout New York State, said. Vern thinks people’s fears about contracting COVID-19 keep them from shopping at larger supermarkets and channel them toward the smaller shops that he supplies.
“Every time [New York Governor Andrew] Cuomo says something on TV, it sets off a new round of panic buying,” he said. “Our bottled milk orders have doubled.” Vern added that his dairy has gone from operating at 75% capacity to 110%. “I’m actually looking forward to things easing up a bit. We’ve only got 15 employees, and we can’t go all summer like this.”