Sunday, December 18, 2011

Can Raw Milk Save Local Farming?

Last week I wrote about the pre-filed bill for the legalization of raw milk which made me research the dairy doings in Kentucky. Looking back at the Community Farm Alliance site archives from July of last year, I somewhat remember the news that our state's dairy farms are continuing a fairly steady decline in number.

Back in 1975 there were 22,000 “operations with dairy cows” which may not mean that they were actual dairies but probably that the milk was sold as part of the farm operations. This year, we are at 892 farms that the state considers dairies or have dairy cows. That was 58 less than last year and it will most likely fall again this year. Of that total under 30 have herds of over 500 head and may be called industrial dairies, all the rest appear to be smaller type farmers and the real producers of local milk.

The idea that Kentucky farms can produce all the milk to be consumed is understandable but the fact that we import some of our retail milk from as far away as New Mexico starts to baffle the mind. Milk that has been shipped that far can easily lose any of the nutrients that may be left after pasteurization and will probably need some supplements added. Doesn't the cost of shipping a product that far enter in to the retail price?

The State tells us to “drink more milk” and the dairy industry keeps saying that “Milk is the real thing” but our dairy farms are literally drying up and blowing away. Past legislative actions to benefit dairies have stalled due to the fear that the fees collected to pay for government loans or grants would have come from surcharges to the retail milk price. We cannot do more for our farmers by removing barriers to business, we have to find ways bill both the farmer AND the consumer for manipulating the free market.

The July article states that a farmer who is able to sell raw milk could ask a premium of about $4 dollars a half gallon but does not state why. Since raw milk sales are not legal, that sales difference is lost to the local farming community. Raw milk sales will not increase the availability or supply of milk but it may allow more farmers to add to the products that they now have. Just another way to add to the farm operations bottom line.

If the annual economic impact of a single milk cow is $4,500.00, then the impact of 10-15 head dairy herds in small communities spread over state will do more that a handful of industrial feedlot dairies, yet it is the big boys who influence regulations and laws. Why shouldn't the 99% of the farmers be “Ky Proud” and not just the 1% of industrial farmers who can buy the designation?

I will end in echoing the comments of the July article which says:
We need a way to allow farmers to dairy on a family-sized scale while rewarding them for responsible herd and land management.  This means paying dairy farmers a fair price for what they produce–something that hasn’t happened for decades.

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