‘Difficult Times’

Low Milk Prices Continue To Hurt Area Farmers

Several area farmers say the cost to produce milk is far greater than what it sells for in stores. The price of milk is determined through a complex commodity marketplace. P-J file photo by Katrina Fuller

The low price of milk has been impacting Chautauqua County dairy farms for the past three years, but farmers are saying this year is the worst they have seen.

Katelyn Walley-Stoll, Farm Business Management extension educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension, said there are over 200 dairy farmers in Chautauqua County. She said the farms in Chautauqua County produce enough dairy for about 700,000 people and noted that the dairy markets are complex and can be confusing to understand.

“The prices dairy farmers receive for their products are determined through a complex commodity marketplace, farmers aren’t able to set their own prices,” Walley-Stoll said. “Prices are affected by international and domestic production, export and import markets, and changes in cooperative marketing.”

Walley-Stoll said milk is highly-perishable and bulky. With fluctuating input costs such as corn, fuel and essential services, as well as unpredictable weather and labor challenges, she said the price of dairy can induce stress.

David White of Cabhi Farms in Clymer said the issue has been ongoing since 2014. He said the cost of production is more than what they can sell the milk for. While there is generally a cycle of two or three years with decreases and increases, White said the decreases have lasted for so long, farmers haven’t been able to rebound in the past few years.

“It’s really creating some difficult times for farms,” he said. “From now until midsummer it looks, to put it nicely, terrible.”

White said there are “a lot of hurting people out there.” He said his father bought the farm in 1958 and Greg White, his son, is a partner in the business, and a fourth-generation farmer.

Greg White said every 100 pounds of milk they produce sells for about $14, when it costs anywhere from $18.50 to $19 to produce. Not only does that loss impact the farmers, but it also impacts local companies the farms support like feed companies, supply companies, tool and hardware stores and other areas.

With such a dramatic downturn in price, Greg White said farmers are no longer going out and spending their money in the community.

“It leaks out into the towns,” he said.

The best thing consumers can do is buy milk and milk products like cheese and yogurt, Greg White said. He said even if someone doesn’t drink milk, they could buy some and donate it to a kids’ program or a shelter. Or, be neighborly and pick one up for the family next door, he said.

“The more we can get people to consume, the better,” he said.

Jack Jones of J-High Acres in Frewsburg said at this point, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight to the lower prices.

“There’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” Jones said.

Jones said the industry is a sturdy one, but the farmers are having a hard time. After three years of low prices, some of the farmers are starting to wear out.

“After a while, it’s very difficult,” he said. “We do not have enough money to cover our expenses right now.”

In Chautauqua County and across the state, Jones said farms going bankrupt may be coming down the line. He said if something doesn’t change soon, a lot of farms may close. However, the farmers aren’t asking for a “hand-out,” he said. Rather, they’re looking for 25-30 cents more a gallon.

“We’re not asking for a lot,” Jones said. “But we need something. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of hope right now; it’s been one of the toughest downturns I’ve seen in 40 years.”

Walley-Stoll said she and her colleague, Lisa Kempisty, Cornell Cooperative Extension dairy and livestock educator, are always available to help and direct farms in whatever way they can.

She also suggested farmers utilize NY FarmNet, a program that helps farms regardless of size. The program has a free hotline at 1-800-547-3276.

Farmers can call and get assistance with farm and business planning, family support and also personal well-being consultations.