Maybe we should have seen the train coming

By ARDEN TEWKSBURY
Posted 1/18/22

Anyone that knew anything about Readington Farms was shocked when they heard the news that they were closing their plant and releasing their dairy farmers. No one was more shocked than I was. I had …

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Maybe we should have seen the train coming

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Anyone that knew anything about Readington Farms was shocked when they heard the news that they were closing their plant and releasing their dairy farmers. No one was more shocked than I was. I had many experiences with Durling Farms, the former owners of Readington Farms and Readington Farms. Most of us never regretted shipping milk to either Durling or Readington.

Both Readington and Durling Farms were a shining light for dairy farmers to deal with. I am happy that in the 1980s we could negotiate a reasonable premium first with Cory Durling, owner of Durling Farms, and then Don Merrigan, the former president and CEO of Readington Farms. The negotiated premium is still good today. This has put millions of dollars into the pockets of farmers.

You must understand that there is a big difference between a negotiated premium like the one the New Jersey-based Durling and Readington companies voluntarily agreed to, and a premium that is set in Pennsylvania by the milk marketing board (mandated by state law) for milk that is produced, bottled and consumed in PA. There is no transparency as to how the co-ops doing business in PA distribute the premium to farmers. The premium negotiated with Durling and Readington is not mandated by law. The negotiated premium is predicated on faith and trust between the dairy farmers and the milk handler.

Over the years, we kept quiet about how the premium was established so it would not be in danger. We must recognize Cory Durling and Don Merrigan for their commitment to continue the premium all these years. Unfortunately, we are in a different ballgame.

In all probability, dairy farmers will no longer see a premium but instead may experience marketing costs taken out of their checks. We hope this does not happen.

The question is, should we have seen this train coming? Maybe I should have, because I witnessed a new name on ShopRite products, including milk. The name on the containers was been changed to “Bowl and Basket.”  I thought this was a strange name. In addition, it is difficult to read the contents on the containers, including the milk fat percentage. Then I was told that a dairy cooperative was inspecting Readington dairy farmers.

Even with all of these developments, I never thought Readington would close their plant. But as Paul Harvey would say, “Now we’ll hear the rest of the story.”

It is unbelievable that two days before Christmas, Readington would notify their dairy producers that they were closing their plant in Whitehouse, NJ. This is not the Readington we have known for over 20 years. Also, how many workers in the plant will lose their jobs? And the truckers faithfully hauling dairy milk; what will happen to them? It is obvious from the letter issued to the farmers that Readington and ShopRite have created a sweetheart deal with Dairy Farmers of America to take over their farmers. However, it is very evident that no one has taken the pulse of their dairy farmers.

But farmers do not have to just go with DFA. The Maryland Virginia co-op (MDVA) could make real inroads gaining access to the supply of milk that Readington has. As I said before, no dairy farmer should sign a contract with any dairy cooperative until the cooperative reveals all of the costs it will charge to dairy farmers. The dairy farmers’ location will play a role in what the total costs will be.

I had the opportunity to review the present costs and the net payment to farmers for Readington, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) and the Maryland-Virginia (DMVA). I was surprised that the producer’s net pay price would favor the Maryland-Virginia co-op.

My major concern is that Maryland-Virginia and Dairy Farmers of America may cherry-pick the producers they want, leaving some stranded dairy farmers without a market for their milk.  

Another problem is that when the dust settles and farmers sign up with either DFA or DMVA, some dairy farms may be left without a hauler. What will happen to them?

In conclusion, I want to say that after I heard about Readington’s closure, the first call I made was to the PA Milk Marketing Board. They were not aware of the situation with Readington. They immediately went into action and I am sure they will be following the events that occur with the Readington to help protect the dairy farmers.

Arden Tewksbury is the manager of Pro-Ag in Meshoppen, PA.

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