Dean Foods dropping dairy farmers - it's a sad day

Arden Tewksbury
Arden Tewksbury

Recent calls that Pro-Ag has received from dairy farmers in New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Kentucky clearly show how horrible it is for any dairy farmer to receive a notice that his buying handler no longer wants his milk. It doesn’t matter that you have been shipping your milk to a certain milk handler for years, nor does it matter that the quality of your milk is more than satisfactory.

None of these reasons and many other reasons don’t matter because when a milk handler says, “I don’t want your milk anymore,” and other milk handlers can’t or won’t take your milk, it becomes devastating to a dairy farmer.

It’s hard for me to believe that nothing can be done to save the majority of these affected dairy farmers.  

Dean Foods, one of the largest buyers of milk in the USA, seemed to be saying that because Walmart is going to open a bottling plant in Indiana, which may cause the giant Walmart to buy less milk from Dean Foods, is why many dairy farmers are being terminated.

Related:More farmers lose milk contracts

It is sort of hard for me to get myself completely wrapped around this idea.  How is it possible, with these dairy farmers located all the way from North and South Carolina to the Ohio line to be the real culprit that is causing Dean Foods to drop all these dairy farmers?

Now, if Dean Foods had a unit of milk consisting of maybe 200 dairy farmers in a unit of milk, and Walmart or anyone else no longer needed that amount of milk, then I could understand the unrest Dean Foods might be experiencing.

You see, I went through this in 1976-77 when I was President of Eastern Milk Producers, when milk handlers stopped buying several units of our milk, and other handlers terminated many of their producers.  

Also, many milk handlers went bankrupt in the Northeast, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New England. Believe me, at least 3,000 dairy farmers were adversely affected, and some dairymen shipping to bankrupt handlers were put out of business. 

I certainly don’t know what all is going on, but so far, I haven’t heard of any dairy cooperatives trying to solve these problems.

My position is, dairy cooperatives have a legal responsibility to market their members’ milk, and no other milk. However, I firmly believe that a dairy co-op has a moral responsibility to help any dairy farmer that is losing their market, and a milk co-op has a moral responsibility to help improve prices paid to all dairy farmers.

I would encourage any dairy co-op doing business in the affected states to try to remedy this terrible situation. Some people will say we are counseling some of these dairy farmers, or trying to help them get other jobs. I think we should do better than the above, and let’s keep these affected dairy farmers on their farms.

Or, are the rumors true? That Dean Foods may be letting other dairy farmers go? I hope these problems can soon be resolved. 

I say the Bible says we are our brother’s keeper.  

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