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More Dairy Farmers In This Area?
August 29, 2013 | No Comments

By John Parker Recently, David Marrison, OSU Extension educator in Ashtabula County, published some interesting results of a dairy survey in this five-county area. The…

By John Parker

Recently, David Marrison, OSU Extension educator in Ashtabula County, published some interesting results of a dairy survey in this five-county area. The survey was conducted at the request of Team NEO and business development organizations in Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake, Portage and Trumbull counties.

David did an excellent job of pulling together a complex mix of information from the dairy farmer survey respon-dents. Interesting and helpful infor-mation is available in the survey results.

Interest on the part of two major milk processors in the five-county area prompted the survey. They wanted to know if it would be possible to encourage more farmers to go into the dairy business in this area. If they could buy more local milk, they could save on the cost of bringing it in from other areas like Michigan or Wisconsin.

Since much of my interest during 35 years with OSU Extension dealt with milk marketing and the dairy industry, I was interested in the results of this survey and some of the implications.

Some questions need to be raised about encouraging more milk prod-uction in this area. For example, what are the processors themselves willing to do to encourage more milk production? Are they willing to pay more for local milk over a long period of time to encourage dairy farmers? Are they buying as much local milk as they can now or are they buying from out-of-state because they can get it cheaper? Are they willing to work with the local milk marketing cooperative to encourage more local milk?

Dairy farmers and those interested in going into the business or those willing to expand need the answers to these questions. They need some assurance that if they make the big investment that would be required, they will get a price for their milk that would give them an income that would meet their costs of production and return a reasonable profit to provide a decent family living.

An overall tone in the survey suggests that price is one of the limiting factors in encouraging more local milk. Given the confined nature of dairy farming and the income that grain farmers have been able to make, dairy farmers need more income if they are to come into the business. Otherwise, grain or other kinds of farming will provide competition.

Survey results suggest a degree of stability in dairy farming in the local area in the next five years. While retirement and other reasons will cause some to go out of business, those staying in plan to expand enough to provide an increase in cow numbers.

Over the years, area dairy farmers have been more independent than in the rest of Ohio. There is a higher percent-age that do not belong to a farmer owned and managed milk market cooperative. One reason for this is a few major processors have been willing to pay just enough more for milk than the cooperative to entice farmers to remain independent. Processors have not wanted to deal with a strong cooperative that can cause them to pay more for their milk supply.

Lack of understanding about how milk is priced has also caused some dairy farmers to either go out of business or remain independent. Federal milk marketing order pricing systems are very complex.

The survey does provide insights into the dairy farming business and attitudes of dairy farmers. It also provides some direction for the future if processor and other organizations are serious about expanding the milk supply in this five-county area. Dairy farm organizations and milk processors should study it and make use of the results.

Parker is retired from The Ohio State University and is an independent agricultural writer.

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