Future for Dairy

It has been established that I enjoy my milk products. So it's no surprise that yesterday's conversation on Civil Eats about the future of dairy farms in America caught my eye.

The original piece is a reaction to the sharp drop in dairy prices that is endangering American farmers, who are now being paid roughly half of what it costs them to produce milk. Not surprisingly, the cause involves the economic slow-down. When the recession hit late last year, many dairy farms were expanding to meet the growing worldwide demand for milk products. As we all tightened our belts, the demand fell and dairy farmers found themselves knee-deep in a surplus. At the same time, we saw a loss in our milk product exports according to the U.S. Foreign Agriculture Service, and an increase in milk product imports. By late 2008, the dairy industry was in trouble.

The Civil Eats post mentions that the price drop is worst for conventional and small to mid-sized farms, but a recent New York Times piece explains that the organic dairy industry is being hit at least as hard, as farmers who made big investments to go organic are now watching their cash-strapped consumers return to non-organic milk.

I'm cringing at the idea of losing 80% of our dairy farms by the end of the year, a loss that would make us increasingly dependent on huge dairy operations and foreign imports, and I am in absolute agreement that action needs to be taken to avoid that outcome. Unfortunately, the problem is reaching a critical mass and the solution will most likely need to come in the form of an immediate increase in subsidies. That said, I feel strongly that these subsidies be a temporary solution, the last thing we want to see is a dairy industry that looks like our model for growing and subsidizing corn.

The future of our small, medium and organic farms depends on an economically sustainable solution, and as Farm Aid's Hilde Steffey points out, "Ultimately, what our dairy farmers need is a complete overhaul of the milk pricing system: one that incorporates the national average cost of production, a fair living wage, and an inventory management mechanism designed to address overproduction as needed. Furthermore, the Department of Justice must tackle unchecked anti-trust violations and excessive control in the industry to ensure a pricing system that is fair and transparent for dairy farmers, processors and consumers alike."

So while subsidies are an important temporary answer, it's crucial that we look ahead for a creative and economically viable solution... The future of our ice cream depends on it. If you're interested in making your thoughts heard feel free to share them in the comments below, or click here.

{ honey lavender ice cream from Epicurious.com }


  1. Thanks for posting on the dairy farming issue. My father and brothers are dairy farmers and, although things have always been tough, they are especially struggling right now. It is unfortunate that many people aren't aware of the struggles that farmers face to bring food to our tables but with the help of posts like this, hopefully more people will realize the trouble our farms are in and take action.

  2. Thanks for your comment Abby, and thanks for finding Fresh. Hoping that all goes well for your family, and that things will be looking up soon. Please keep us posted...