Folks were rightly bummed after reading a recent New York Times piece that signaled the death knell for organic dairy farms. The short of it is that peaking supply and slowing demand are forcing dairy farmers — many of whom incurred enormous debts to make the switch to organic — to go belly up. There’s just too much milk clogging up the tubes of the nation’s wholesalers, and small farmers are suddenly hawking a valueless product.
Some horrifying stats from the piece, emphasis mine:
The contracts of 10 of Maine’s 65 organic dairies will not be renewed by HP Hood, one of the region’s three large processors. In Vermont, 32 dairy farms have closed since Dec. 1, significantly altering the face of New England’s dairy industry.
Vermont is a big dairy farming state, but it is a small state; thirty-two farms is a lot of farms. And then there’s this:
Organic Valley, a nationwide cooperative, told Maine organic dairy farmers last month that its sales growth had dropped to near zero from about 20 percent six months ago.
I was surprised and happy to see some pushback from the foodosphere. While acknowledging that there’s a real, tragic problem in the dairy industry, the Ethicurean took issue with some of the report, including the notion that the “price of organic feed shot up.” As the Ethicurean points out, there’s no mention of farms that rely more on pasture (read: grass) than feed.
And Ali at GastroNomalies points out that “ALL feed costs have gone up, not just organic.” It seems that the Times, while solidly reporting the crisis, apparently twisted the story just a bit to make it look like only organic farmers are suffering. Unfortunately, the reality is worse than that; all farmers are hurting.
So do we, as the Ethicurean suggests, get the government involved to buy up all the surplus milk and sell it cheap to school lunch programs? It’s a good idea, but it seems a bit too pat and easy. Do we allow these farms to go under and cite market forces, over which we (allegedly) have no control? Or do we inaugurate yet another federal bailout for small farmers — and not the big ones, who have been bailed out for decades — for the sake of mythic nostalgia for an old, pure America?
Someone get me a Pontiac, a mortgage, and a milkshake.