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Many Wayne County dairy farmers still hurting

October 19, 2011

Dairy farmer Joe Davitt, a third-generation Waymart dairy farmer, is having a rough year, like many other area dairy farmers. “The weather since the spring, with nearly 60 inches of rain, killed us,” he said. “We couldn’t plant as much as we wanted and we didn’t get nearly enough hay cut.”

Davitt showed me his hay maw, which was only half full. “This is usually filled to the top,” he said. But that’s not all. He, like all small dairy farmers in Northeast states, aren’t making nearly enough on the milk they produce by the sweat of their brows.

You only have to spend a small amount of time to see him sweating, milking his 40 cows twice a day; packing away expensive bales of feed; driving his tractor, in need of repair, out to the fields with hay for the herd to eat; and doing the myriad of chores that make up a dairy farmer’s day.

Most small farmers have piled up debts because of the low prices they have gotten for their milk for the last five or so years. “We had some relief just this year when the price we got was around $22 to $23 per hundred weight (per cwt),” he said. “We hear that the price is going down again to $15 or $16.”

Davitt doesn’t fault the coops like Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) for the low price. “They aren’t the ones that determine the price as much as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), which constitutes the milk market for the nation.

“I have to keep the cows outside since I don’t have a big barn like the mega-farms do,” he said. “When cows are outside in wet weather like this, their milk is not of high quality so I get a loss there.”

The direness of the situation is reflected in the number of dairy farms that have gone out of business. According to Ed Pruss of the Cornell Cooperative Extension, the number of dairy farms in Wayne County has dropped from a high of 400 in 1980 to around 80 in existence now. Some say that the real number has fallen to around 50.

Brian Smith, once a dairy farmer, now the chairman of Wayne County Commissioners, said he heard that the coops and the haulers are supposed to charge small farmers an additional fee if they can’t produce at least 2,000 pounds of milk every two days when the hauler comes.