The Future of Dairy Farming in the Northeast

Starting my own personal blog has been in the back of my mind for quite some time now. I found lots of ways to let the time pass and not get started. Strange as it may sound, I was nervous, too; mainly that my opinions would be applied to different organizations with which I am associated. So, before I begin, let me make clear that the opinions presented herein are my own and in no way represent my employer or any of the volunteer organizations that I participate in. Phew! Now that I have that out of the way, let me begin. Came across a fitting first-time blog entry the other day…

Recently a friend and colleague asked me (during a youth dairy contest at a local fair, mind you), “So, what’s the future of dairy in the Northeast?” Well, if that’s not the million dollar question for those of us involved in the dairy industry, I don’t know what is! And here I was thinking I would just have to judge a few heifers and kids that day. After a brief hesitation, my friend quickly changed his question to “Is there a future for dairy here?” My quick reply: Yes.

Now, I have been accused in the past of being too “Pollyanna” but I think I have evolved to be what I consider realistically optimistic. Certainly, the dairy landscape has changed and is changing – aesthetically, production-wise and in the way we do business. This is not new. The way things are and the way they used to be is and has always been different. One thing that stays the same though is that in this country we have the unalienable right of the pursuit of happiness and in my experience, albeit relatively short, I have seen that where there is a will, there is a way.

That’s not to say that things don’t get out of control or beyond our reach. Unfortunately the stark reality is that we all have bills that need to be paid and for the most part, we rely on an income stream that is dependent upon factors beyond our control. Yet even then, there are folks who are figuring out how to get more control over the price they receive or are supplementing by diversifying their income stream. They are utilizing minimum milk price contracts. They are selling product directly to their neighbors and beyond. They are investing in more efficient operations. They are starting side ventures like agri-tainment. The list goes on.

There’s something about someone telling you “no, you can’t” that makes you want to push harder to make it work, no?

So I think that’s why my reply was so quick in coming to the second question. I have no doubt that there is a future here in the Northeast for dairy. What that future looks like – whether it is a brand new highly efficient free-stall herd or a low-investment pasture-grazed tie-stall herd or both or something else or everything in between, remains to be seen. Maybe it won’t look too different from today. I happen to believe that there is room for all types of dairy farms.

I relate back to my 4-H dairy experience. When my family first started in 4-H 28 years ago there were lots of kids involved but very few, if any, showing dairy calves that did not come from a farm. We were one of the very few. As the years went on, it seemed the number of participants dwindled. I know now that we were going through the Dairy Herd Termination Buyout and that real estate prices soared in Massachusetts, making it tough for dairy farms to compete with houses, among other things. Today, believe it or not, the Massachusetts 4-H Dairy Program is growing again. I won’t say we’ve come full circle, but maybe something like it. Most kids lease or purchase animals, and do not come from a farm or at least one that provides the sole financial support of the family.

Twenty-eight years ago when non-farm kids were a rarity in the 4-H show ring and through a time where dairy farms were being replaced by houses faster than residential construction could keep up, who would have thunk it?

Clearly, the future of dairy here and everywhere is ours for the making.

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2 Comments

Filed under Dairy Industry

2 responses to “The Future of Dairy Farming in the Northeast

  1. Leah

    Cute blog title, Jo! I get the TV rights on this if it becomes “The Real Jersey Cow Girls” Bravo TV franchise.

  2. Linda H

    A very important conversation needs to be had! Dairies.. indeed, lives.. depend on the decisions that are being made right now for the 2012 farm bill.

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