July 3, 2018

Milk surplus hurting Maine dairy farmers

Sandy River Farms, a dairy farm in Farmington, could close after Aug. 31, if owner Bussie York is unable to increase direct-to-consumer sales.

The Sun Journal reported that York was informed in February by his longtime commercial milk buyer that it didn't need his milk anymore. Outreach to other buyers was rejected. Tim Drake, executive director of the Maine Milk Commission, told the newspaper that the buyer had suddenly dropped other Maine dairy farms, too. Since December, 10 Maine dairy farms have closed. In 2000, Maine had 483 dairy farms; in May, there were 233.

"None of the co-ops are taking on any new milk," Drake said, not surprised that York hasn't found a new buyer. "Consumption has been down, and production has been up; that's not a good formula for high prices and creating demand for it."

According to Sandy River's website, co-owners Herbert "Bussie" and Brenda Voter York both hailed from local farming families, and in 1961 took over the York family's King of the Valley Farm that was situated on the property of the old Jones Farm. Bussie's father and mother, Linwood and Lila York, had operated the 300-acre farm since 1952. Today, the original 300-acre farm is part of a farm operation that has incorporated land from 15 separate farms, and the Yorks manage 600 acres of land in crops, hay and pastures. Because approximately 1,000 additional acres of their farm is forested, they run a logging business.

On June 30, NBC News reported that small-dairy farmers across the nation are getting squeezed out by corporate agriculture. More than 100 dairy farmers across seven states learned in March that they would lose their contract with Dean Foods, which runs a milk processing plant in Louisville that mainly served Walmart. Many of the Kentucky dairy farmers who sold their milk to Dean Foods have not yet found anyone else to buy it. Since 2000, more than 42,000 dairy farmers have gone out of business as a result of an outdated business model, expensive farm loans and pressures from corporate agriculture.

"I don't see anything that would give them hope at this point," Joe Schroeder, a farm advocate for Farm Aid in Cambridge, Mass., told NBC. "The best advice I can give to these folks, dairy farmers, is to sell out as fast as you can."

At a December 2016 roundtable hosted by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, at the Maine Farm Bureau in Augusta, Maine dairy farmers said their industry in general could use help from Congress in their efforts to provide milk to customers in a fair marketplace. The decline of Maine's dairy farms is due in part to the aging farming population coupled with low numbers of incoming farmers.


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