Local dairy farmers get an unexpected letter in the mail informing them their thousands of gallons of milk produced are no longer needed.
The dairy farming industry has been struggling in recent years, but a 90-day notice from Dean Foods Company could put many local farms completely out of business. The company operates five processing facilities in Pennsylvania and gets their milk from independent dairy farmers.
Recently, Dean Foods lost two major retail accounts leading the company to make a quick decision to terminate agreements with 42 dairy farms across Pennsylvania; 16 of those on the western side of the state.
Local farmers were notified just weeks ago that by May 31st, their milk was no longer needed.
Dean Curtis, tells us, “That means that their whole way of life is gone. They’ve lost everything they’ve worked maybe 20, 30, 40 years for. They’ve lost it. They have no recourse.”
Dean owns Curtis Dairy Farms in Wattsburg, in business for 50 years. He is one of the few lucky farmers who did not receive a letter. “It’s just a bad situation out there for these people. Prices are already down for dairy farmers so bad that they’re struggling. So hard… and to get this letter on top of this….”
Curtis’ barn is filled with nearly 150 cows that produce milk and all of that milk goes to Dean Foods. He tells us, “They pick it up every other day. That’s the state law. We send around…. between 13 and 15 thousand pounds every other day.”
What do the farmers with terminated contracts do after May 31st? Best case scenario, farmers will find a new market to sell their milk. Others will be forced to sell the majority of their cows. Some may have other sources of farm income to support themselves. Worst case scenario, they’ll have to sell their farm and leave the farming business.
Jayne Sebright, Executive Director Center for Dairy Excellence, says, “The milk industry is very volatile. Milk prices go up and down and … milk is a very perishable product and supplies ebb and flow and any slight change in the supply and demand causes a big change in the price.”
Sebright says she was told that there are not any other letters from Dean Foods to come in the near future, so farmers, like Dean Curtis, have been spared… for now…