The Connecticut Farm Bureau hosted The Connecticut Dairy Summit on Jan. 4, 2017, designed to present an overview of the status of the dairy industry in the state as it enters a new year. The meeting was held in the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, CT, which afforded interested members of the Legislature to hear the concerns of those involved in the dairy industry.
The number of dairy farms in the state has declined dramatically over the past three decades and those that remain must be managed at the highest level. Dairying is one of the few businesses where management has virtually no control over the price it receives for its product and the complexities of the pricing structure remain somewhat more than bizarre.
In the northeast regional market, the contribution of Connecticut dairymen to the total amount of milk produced is but a fraction of overall production but it remains a most important segment of the total agricultural economy in the state, contributing about 20 percent of its total dollar volume.
Connecticut dairymen, by the very nature of the economy in which they operate, must be excellent operators and indeed they are. They outstrip their fellow dairymen in neighboring and nearby states in some significant areas by a considerable margin. Connecticut has always been at the end of the supply line, most of the feed consumed by cattle in the form of concentrates comes from the mid-west. This, the most expensive component of a cow’s diet, is made even more expensive when freight charges are added in.
Moderators for the session were Henry Talmage, Executive Director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association, and Connecticut Farm Bureau Association Dairy Committee Co-Chairs Ben Freund, Freund’s Farm, East Canaan, CT and Peter Orr, Fort Hill Farms, Thompson, CT.
Steven K. Reviczky, Connecticut Commissioner of Agriculture, spoke to the importance of dairying in the overall agricultural economy of the state and how it contributes to the landscape.
Market trends at the international, national and regional levels were addressed by two speakers: the first of whom was Bruce Krupke, Executive Vice President of Northeast Dairy Foods Association located in Syracuse, NY. This organization is a group of over 300 dairy processors located in the northeast. Many of these are easily recognizable while others may be small “mom and pop” processors serving a very local area. Today’s dairy market is worldwide and the U.S. is competing against other major exporting nations, especially New Zealand and the European Market.
The second speaker addressing the topic was Bob Wellington, Economist for Agri-Mark. The manner in which milk is priced is a study unto itself and can be somewhat confusing for those not directly involved in its management.
The overseas market has done much to stabilize the price of milk as consumers in countries such as China have an ever-increasing middle class, which is consuming more dairy products. This benefits the price of milk nationally but unfortunately, has very little or no impact on the price received by Connecticut dairy farmers.
On the local scene, economic factors related to the Connecticut Dairy Industry gained from research by the University of Connecticut College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources and the Charles J. Zwick Center for Food and Research Policy. First presenter was John Bovay, Extension Economist who cited Public Act 09-229, which established a price support system for milk based on the price received for milk and the cost of production. The dollar difference between the two represents a grant to participating farmers to cover this loss. Dr. Rigoberto Lopez presented a summary of the changes that have occurred over the past 35 years relative to total cow numbers, production per cow, total milk production and land in production. Despite the decline in the number of farms it is quite remarkable to see the production per cow and total milk production remain at a high level, as Dr. Lopez’s figures show. It is still a billion dollar business providing employment to 3,800 workers.
Keith Stechschulte represented Farm Credit East. Twenty-two percent of the total farm loans held by that business are to dairy farmers and it remains strongly committed to serving the dairy industry. It is interesting to note the wide disparity in certain operating costs in Connecticut as compared to the neighboring state of New York. A recent study by Farm Credit suggests that the industry may be entering a new era in milk pricing. This will increase the pressure on dairy farmers to increase their efficiency and incorporate new technologies into their operations.
Bryan Hurlburt, State Executive Director of the USDA Farm Service Agency, presented an update on the Dairy Margin Protection Program. Given the way in which the program is formulated, Connecticut farmers receive very little in the way of compensation.
The Project Director of the Working Lands Alliance, Clark Chapin, presented some data that his group has collected that relate to dairy farming and overall agriculture in the state. First the number of farms in the state has increased in recent years, most of these in the area of vegetable production. As noted elsewhere, in 35 years the number of dairy farms has declined from 687 to 146 and the acreage dedicated to dairy farming stands at 63,000 acres. Dairy farmers are doing their part to control greenhouse gas emissions. Despite claims to the contrary, greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture amount to about two percent of total emissions. Farmers are incorporating solar energy into their programs well as methane digesters, soil and water conservation measures plus GPS technology in their cropping programs.
A panel of dairy operators concluded the summit. They included Seth Bahler, Ellington, CT; Lincoln Chesmer, Lebanon, CT; Amnda Freund, East Canaan, CT; Mellissa Greenbacker-Dziurgot, Durham, CT; Liz Macalister, Colchester, CT and Greg Piracchio of Coventry, CT. Each of the panelists had a contribution that was relevant to that which is going on in the industry today. Bahlers is undergoing a major expansion which will include a 75 cow rotary milking unit and the potential to be milking 3,000 cows in a few years. The Chesmers are milking over 600 head and have been in a position to buy neighboring farms that were in the farmland preservation program. In East Canaan, the Freunds are noted for their development of cow pots, flowerpots made from cow manure that are ecologically friendly in every way. Cheese sold directly to the consumer is the unique product offered by Cato Corner Farm in Colchster, over 5,000 lbs. per year according to owner Liz Macalister. Melissa Greeenbacker-Dziurgot reported the farm’s efforts to expand the operation have been hampered by the reluctance of landowners from whom they rent to have their land plowed and fertilized for corn production. This reporter finds this somewhat surprising given the long agricultural heritage in the Town of Durham. Greg Peracchio spoke about the issue that almost every farm family must face and that is the one of generational transition. All parties are cooperating to make this as smooth and uneventful as possible.
This summit was rewarding in many ways. Now its message needs to be provided to every dairy farm family in the state in order that they may benefit from the information that was provided