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Ripple Effect

Dairy Farmers Are Heroes Too

Norm and Brenda Gustafson with some of their family members and employees show their dirty hands after covering the bunk silo on their Falconer-Frewsburg Road farm. Submitted photos

So many heart-warming stories have come out of the current COVID-19 shutdown of our nation. There may be just as many situations that will be remembered, but not celebrated, when it comes to an end. Many farmers, especially the dairy farmer, will be included in the last group as this is a very difficult time for them. Even though hard times are not new to these hardworking people, the closing of food service businesses, schools, the hospitality industry and more has had a huge impact on the industry that is responsible for survival, both human and animal.

It was disheartening to farm families when they heard supermarkets were limiting the amount of milk a customer could purchase, when the plants that ordinarily processed their milk were unable to use all of the milk their herd had produced.

Ronald Adams of R&D Adams Dairy Farms, LLC has been farming the property his father, Burton Adams, purchased in the early 1960s, since he graduated from high school. Later the son and his wife Loretta purchased the farm where they raised their family. Their son, David, and his twin sons Bradley and Bryan are involved with the business on a daily basis.

“We were warned that we may have to dump milk. With the schools being out there’s not as much demand for it,” said the grandfather.

Then the dreaded call came telling them they would have to dump a load. Luckily, they received a second call stating a mistake had been made and the calcium-rich, white liquid would be accepted, but Adams knows he could get his call to dump any day.

Ron Adams of R & D Adams Dairy Farms, LLC plants sweet corn with a 4-row corn planter.

The Randolph farm owns three semi-tractors and four tankers, therefore they transport their own milk. A tanker is parked at each of their two barns because they don’t use bulk tanks. The first load leaves the Elm Creek Road farm between 2 and 2:30 a.m. and is taken to Farmers Cheese in New Wilmington, Pa., a 300-mile round trip. Another load, headed for Cuba Cheese in Cuba, N.Y., leaves between 4 and 6 a.m. Some days a third load goes back to Farmers Cheese leaving by 9 a.m.

“In 2014 we had the highest record prices of milk, $25 per 100 pounds. Our last check for milk produced during the month of March was $18 per 100 pounds and it has been going down ever since,” said Ron Adams. “Some forecasters say it will be $13 or $14.

He points out that even though milk prices are plummeting, the price of feed, seed and fertilizer are not dropping. They are currently employing 32 workers and are milking 2,100 Holsteins in their 80-stall rotary milking parlor. They are members of Dairy Farmers of America or DFA, a national milk marketing co-op that represents more than 8,500 dairy farms.

“We want to be around here for generations to come,” said Bradley with a passion that only a member of a farm family can understand.

Not only has the shutdown affected the Adams family where their farm is concerned, but a celebration of Ron’s 80th birthday on April 19 had to be canceled. Again, the ripple effect goes out to all of the small businesses, including the venue, who will miss out on the profit from this event which included 150 friends and family members coming from as far away as California, Washington, Virginia and Illinois.

Norm Gustafson’s grandfather bought his farm on the Falconer-Frewsburg Road in 1925.

“We’re getting close to 100 years. I’ve never seen anything like this in my 61 years,” he said.

The Gustafson Farm milks 120 cows. Along with 48 other large and small farms, it is a member of the Steamburg Milk Co-Op who have a contract with Friendship Dairies in Friendship, N.Y. Due to the closing of the cruise industry, hotels and other large consumers of yogurt, sour cream and cottage cheese, Friendship has lost contracts. Because of this loss, Gustafson, who pays to have his milk hauled, will be sending his milk to Sharpsville, Pa. The additional cost of trucking will be approximately $1,100 per month. Along with the added expense Gustafson expects a decrease of about $3,800 in his monthly milk check.

Milk processors are set up to process a particular product. If the need for butter pats goes away, they are not equipped to switch to ice cream, even if there is a need.

“People are contacting me asking why they are dumping (milk) when the stores are out of cottage cheese, cheese and the dairy products they want. I tell them it is hard to switch over night to a totally different form of product,” Gustafson said.

Others question why the milk can’t be given to soup kitchens, homeless shelters and needy families. One reason is because liability insurance would not cover the policy owner if a problem arose from selling or giving the milk away. The main reason the milk cannot be sold is because it is illegal to sell raw milk in New York state.

“We bought seed in December. It was the first time in 12-15 years we were able to buy ahead and boy am I glad we did. It was a God thing,” said the farmer. “You don’t know what to do. If I don’t have a milk market, do I want to put crops in?”

They are thankful they were able to buy a semi load of sawdust, but feel badly that it was supposed to be delivered to a farmer who went out of business.

“We feel blessed because we were able to get fertilizer and sawdust,” said Brenda Gustafson, the farmer’s wife. “While some people are isolated from their families, we have a son next door and a daughter across the road. Another daughter and her son moved in with us during this virus.”

Recently, three large dairies in the area have gone out of business. If a bankruptcy is involved, the suppliers do not get paid. More ripple effect. Farmers make up less than one percent of the population. If one stops to think about how that percentage is feeding over 99 percent of Americans, they would have a new respect for the industry. We have recently been putting hero labels on workers in the frontlines. Without American farmers, all food and dairy would have to be imported. Perhaps we should be putting capes on the ones who keep us nourished without exorbitant cost, the ones who have been in the frontlines since the beginning of time. Let’s run out and buy extra dairy weekly while practicing social distancing. You won’t have to look far to find a family who would be happy to accept the gift of a gallon or two of milk.

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