NODPA Regional Round Up: August 2015
Added January 25, 2016
Other than dreaming of a vacuum drone under the Christmas tree which would put strewn feed back in Tide Mill Farm’s feed bunks, Aaron Bell reports that his farm is in better straights than this time last year. Fleshing out his milk checks are year-round fresh poultry sales enabled by the farm’s new processing facility. Low fuel costs have also had a noticeable effect on the farm’s current economic situation.
He recently heard from Horizon that the current $3/cwt. market adjusted premium (MAP) will continue on through June 30, 2016. Aaron was unsure of his exact price per/cwt. but suspects that it is hovering around $40.
With no plans to expand the herd size, he has sold some young stock which will hopefully alleviate the need to buy supplemental forage this winter. Aaron has 200 round bales ($42.50/bale before delivery) reserved if he needs to supplement. He is currently feeding 8-10 pounds of grain per cow in a TMR.
Winter plans include fixing broken free stalls in the barn. Aaron anticipates that this will reduce the amount of purchased bedding.
Tide Mill hosted its 10th annual Caroling to the Cows on Christmas Eve. What began as a casual barn sing-a-long has turned into a popular community event with approximately 20 to 50 people in attendance.
Kirk said he is feeling relatively positive about the farm’s economy as they close in on 2016. They have enjoyed the higher milk prices of the past few years. It has allowed some overdue upgrades to both their equipment and barn.
They purchased a used JD 7430 and added a front mounted three-point hitch and PTO which allows them to use twin mowers. This has greatly increased their ability to produce high quality forage efficiently.
New mattresses and mattress covers were added to their tie-stalls this year. The old rubber alley way puzzle-piece style mats were removed and replaced with a continuous roll of rubber flooring. The greatest challenge was unrolling the unwieldy 3700 pound roll.
Kirk reported that the organic milk market in central New York is strong with both the Upstate Niagra co-op and Byrne Dairy procuring milk. Byrne is a local conventional processor that has recently added an organic line. Kirk was aware that Byrne is making organic Greek yogurt and possibly their own line of fluid milk. Despite the demand for organic milk in his area, he has not heard of any transitioning conventional farmers in his area.
Kirk follows organic dairy policy somewhat and stated that he is against the check-off and hopes that the Origin of Livestock Rule is a fair one with no loopholes.
The dairy ration as of early winter consists of a TMR of 3rd crop haylage, high-moisture ear corn and 4 pounds of flax meal per cow per day. Free choice dry hay is also available.
Our farm is in a better situation than last year. Feed quality is much better, contributing to higher milk production. Lower fuel prices and slightly lower grain prices give us a bit of breathing room in the monthly bills. We did think seriously about changing milk buyers but in the end decided to stay where we are.
We look to keep roughly the same herd size as we bring our son into the business. We had two large building projects last year, so we are in a “paying this off” mode before we consider the next building phase, which will be improving our heifer-raising facilities.
The huge costs associated with the purchase, maintenance, and repairs of essential machinery continue to be a major issue. Most farms near us have a big problem in finding good employees, and find that the additional costs of workman’s comp and federal taxes on top of an employee’s salary make it a huge financial burden to pay good workers a decent wage.
The organic industry is certainly not stagnant, and since there is money to be made, there are companies who try to confuse consumers with “almost-as-good-as-organic” marketing claims. So it’s probably up to us to keep telling the story about what it means (and doesn’t mean) to be organic. Imports are definitely headed this way, and that’s a worrying thing.
I’m not in favor of the organic check-off but it appears that it may be rammed down our throats in the future. It’s just another layer of bureaucracy that we don’t need and don’t want to pay for.
John reported that he’s been telling everybody that there’s never been a better time to be a farmer. He survived the Hood thing because of Organic Valley. We’re on the end of the line; there are five of us in the county and we’re not going to rock the boat that feeds us. My trucking route has been affected by some producers that have gone to Stonyfield. He was lucky Organic Valley was there to pick up the pieces when Hood exited. We’re very thankful to Organic Valley.
If the conventional farmers were a little more healthy it would be more of a safety net for organic producers. Organic and conventional farmers share the same infrastructure in many ways with supplies and equipment. If the conventional farmers fail or nearly fail then they can’t help support the infrastructure. Everybody’s boat rises with the tide. He would rather live in a state with a few hundred successful conventional producers than see only 15 organic producers and ½ of the conventional producers in trouble.
John explained that all of his children have careers. They want the farm to continue but don’t want to take it over. They may have some interest in the woodland or maple but as far as being dairy farmers they aren’t interested. They want the farm to continue beyond them so they’re bringing in a person. He’s not a dairyman but is a great mechanic and hard worker. They’ll see how it goes. They can still do a lot of the work but not enough to make the farm as profitable as it should be. They bought some cows this year and are raising a lot of heifers and hope to get the herd up to 60 milkers. No one person is going to do this alone. John is 66 and tries to think 50 as much as he can. It keeps the numbers lower.
The other part of the problem is that much of his land is wooded and 26 years ago they sold a conservation easement to the state of New Hampshire. He wishes they could sell the farmland and retain the wood land. If they could break it up into two parcels it would make the transition easier.
He’s been farming a very long time and still doesn’t get enough forage early enough to take full advantage of it. If he could change that it would be a positive direction for the farm. He just can’t take off first crop fast enough. He ends up with too much heifer hay. He loves round bales but needs to figure out how to get first crop out of the way faster.
Here in northern N.Y. we are experiencing above normal temperatures for the fall and looks like they will continue on into the winter. This has been great as the cows have been able to spend more time outdoors than usual. I am just worried how this will affect next year’s hay crop. The forecast is for NO snow on the ground for Christmas.
Financially, it looks like the farm did better this year than it has the last couple of years. Fuel and electricity cost are down considerably from last year and other expenses seemed to have evened out some. The next big problem could be the governor’s proposed $15/hr. minimum wage.
As the wife and I are getting on in years we are faced with the problem of how to retire as there are no family members to take over. We would ideally like to see the farm stay organic, but the MEGA farms around us will most likely pay more for the farm than anyone could afford who would keep it organic. This is a growing problem in farm transitions these days and we are starting to look at what options are available.
I believe there is a future in the organic business if the government will enforce the rules and if the processors and their stakeholders don’t get too greedy then the consumer should be able to buy with confidence. Let us never forget that organic is third party certified by the USDA and that grass-fed or natural are not. Grass-fed and natural have no real set of guidelines and no USDA distinction what so ever and until they do they should be NO real threat to organic farming.
The biggest threat I see to the organic farm system in the near future is the organic check-off being promoted by the OTA. This may not do any immediate damage but it will do no good either. Look at the state of conventional agriculture, they have a ton of check-offs and are not making as much money as organic agriculture. That alone should be enough of an obvious reason to NOT have an organic check-off.
Back to the USDA, I think they have dragged their feet about long enough on the Origin of Livestock rule. This should have been passed and put into effect within a year after the pasture rule as it was being proposed and discussed in the same time period. I can hardly wait to see the watered down version that will most likely be approved of by the USDA.
Roman reported that the economic situation on his farm is better than last year but feels that realistically that pay price is $5-10/cwt. lower than it should be. And actually, it should be more than that. The mild fall and winter have been beneficial – the grass continues to grow as of Christmas time and cows are still out, day and night. It has been a dry fall which has been easy on their bedding supply.
The price of cows is up with offers on the table for $2800 for a springing heifer and $3200 for a bred second lactation cow. It seems like if the Origin of Livestock Rule can be kept tight, to the one time transition, there will always be a good strong market for cows. The cost of raising an organic heifer is astronomical.
Demand for organic dairy products has softened but mostly because processors don’t have the supply. There would be more business if people could have the product consistently through the winter. Pay price lags behind the cost of production. We can afford to pay producers more, it’s about our combined future (processor and farmer).
Roman closed by saying that keeping farmers informed about all these issues is important, rather than in the dark and feeding them misht (Amish for manure) like mushrooms.
Rick reported he will change processors in March. He will be switching from Organic Valley to Calabro cheese. Calabro Cheese was the first company that bought his organic milk and he’s going back. The pay price is higher. Currently, Calabro produces a conventional line of mozzarella and ricotta but wants to get back into organics. Customers want it, too. Rick recounted a story about the price of conventional milk going up during his early years with Calabro, and owner said that he should be paying organic farmers more and he did.
Other than that change, Rick said he needs to find more land but land is tight with numerous conventional farms in the area. One farm a few miles away is milking 300 and another 250. There’s also a 1300 cow dairy nearby. The biggest farm is traveling over 30 miles to find land. He’s not in a flat area; land is difficult to find.
No major infrastructure improvements are planned at this time. Maybe in a couple of years he might do something depending if his children decide to get involved.
In closing, Rick noted that he has been fighting for a fair Origin of Livestock Rule from the very beginning. He’s been to Washington D.C. on the issue. As for the check-off, he acknowledged that organic milk must be advertised but the check-off seems to be at the benefit of large western farms. We don’t really need to push the sale of organic milk in the northeast. “Why should the farmer be paying for it when the handlers, processors and sellers are making money off it?”
Jeep Madison | Shoreham, Vermont
Horizon | 60 cows in milk
Jeep happily reported that the garlic tincture he produces, Jo’s Jo’s Elixir, just got listed by OMRI.
Jeep said that things are better than they have been in quite a few years. They’re short on feed but usually plan on buying feed anyway. They have a good source that they’ve been buying from for many years. They’re hoping to get up to milking 73 cows by mid-January.
They’ve recently taken their 22 year old son on. Jeep is of retirement age. They’ve added a heifer and dry cow barn so they can all eat. He had an older son that wanted to farm with him a while back but they were small and not yet organic. They timing wasn’t right for him. Since then they’ve added land, transitioned and gotten bigger.
Equipment costs and repairs are getting out of scale for smaller farms. Even the smaller equipment is pricey; they buy used.
He has trouble with supporting the check-off. He doesn’t think it has worked for beef or milk or anything. They’ve been doing it for years with conventional milk but conventional fluid milk consumption continues to decline. The guys at the top make big dollars on the check-off. He also thinks replacements should be born on an organic dairy farm. It doesn’t seem right to transition conventional animals. It’s another nail in the little guy’s coffin.
Life’s great. Jeep closed by saying that the older he get the greater it gets. He couldn’t do any of this without his wife and family.