At a time of profound hardship in the dairy industry, the few farmers optimistic enough to start new cow dairies are going the route of organic dairy. The name of Clover Bliss Farm refers to the contentment its abundant pastures bring to its bovine residents. It also sums up the aspirations that dairy farmers Chris and Samantha Kemnah have for the 190-acre spread and the old tie-stall barn in South Argyle, New York, that they took over from a long-retired farm couple.
From the time they started about two years ago, the Kemnahs have been supplying organic “grass only” milk to Maple Hill Creamery. Maple Hill, which now collects organic milk from 150 farms across upstate New York, pledges to its customers that the cows producing its milk consume only pasture, hay and other forages, rather than corn, soy and other common dairy feeds.
Two years ago, organic production still stood out clearly as a bright spot that might offer long-term economic stability for dairy farmers. In contrast, the price of milk paid to conventional dairy operations had already fallen into what would become a protracted slump, setting off yet another period of economic distress that has reached a crisis point.
Farmers, advocates and policy wonks disagree on how, and even whether, to address the challenges facing the dairy industry. But there’s no dispute about the overriding dynamics behind the sector’s crisis. Milk production continues to increase, yet Americans’ consumption has been falling. Industrial-scale dairy farms, with greater labor efficiency and capitalization, have been the engine driving the increased production, and they’ve been adding cows and land as smaller family farmers give up and leave the industry.
Lately, some of the same economic forces that have plagued conventional dairy farms are showing up in the organic market as well — putting pressure on farmers like the Kemnahs. Continue Reading →