cows in field

Feed, Pay and Retail Price, October 2014

By Ed Maltby, NODPA Executive Director

The headline has been the same for the last few months: ‘Organic milk supply is tight; consumption of organic fluid milk is increasing; feed costs are level; and purchased organic hay is expensive, if you can find any of good quality.’

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In the Northeast, competition for milk supply is increasing, with expansion plans by established and new processors who are looking for more producers in certain geographic areas. This increased competition has forced the national brands to raise they pay price to retain producers. Horizon confirmed recently that they will be initiating a winter feed premium of $1 for the period of Oct 1 through Dec 31, and will be adding an additional $1 on the MAP effective Oct 1st through at least June 31, 2015.

The dairies looking for organic milk include the following:

  1. Maple Hill Creamery
  2. Trickling Springs Creamery - $32.75 base, $2.50 for BF above 3.2%.
  3. Byrne Dairy (Syracuse, NY) – built a yogurt plant in Cortland, NY and are willing to pay $40 per hundred for those within easy shipping distance
  4. Natural By Nature
  5. Upstate Niagara has been having solicitation meetings in upstate New York and the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont
  6. Chiobani (yogurt)
  7. Sunrise Dairy (yogurt)
  8. Stonyfield Farm (yogurt)
  9. Common Wealth Dairy (Brattleboro, VT) are considering going organic – (yogurt)

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Producers are in a stronger position to negotiate for a higher pay price to compensate for higher cost of inputs as they renew contracts, or talk with their cooperative about the annual decisions around increases in member compensation. There is also an increase in demand for producers who qualify for the grass fed label as CROPP expands its available routes in New York and Vermont this fall. CROPP’s “Grassmilk” producers can expect a $5/cwt premium above the normal CROPP pay program when they qualify for the grass fed program. The Grassmilk standards include:

  • Mandatory feeding standards
  • Target goals in soil and forage quality
  • Requirements for active grazing and animal health/body condition
  • Producers work to continuously improve soil, forage and animal health
  • Results orientated approach monitored by testing regime

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The conventional pay price is still high; the beef cull price has shown no sign of dropping; and conventional feed is cheap, so there is no economic incentive to transition to organic production unless there is the promise of a future higher pay price for organic. With an average growth rate of 7-8% a year in fluid sales and increasing demand for organic dairy in manufactured product, now would be the time for organic buyers to schedule higher pay prices for the next few years as, with higher profits for conventional producers, it makes it easier to transition to organic production as the cost of transition would be less than it has been.
USDA AMS reports that organic dairy production continues to expand in Texas and the Southwest, where some producers owning large herds are aggressively seeking to expand cow numbers. A number of smaller herds of organic producers transitioning out of organic production have been purchased in their entirety and added to existing large herds. The current high price of organic beef and organic feed continues to encourage some organic producers to leave organic dairy production. Some sales of organic cows are for slaughter, rather than to existing producers for herd expansion or transitioning into conventional production. Last week, at an auction in Oregon, organic cows sold for slaughter continued to bring a premium over conventional cows. The top ten organic cows auctioned brought an average price of $1.7218 a pound, compared with a $1.2963 average for the top ten conventional cows.

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Varied food retail and investment enterprises are showing increasing interest in the organic dairy sector. Consultants for national supermarket chains are gathering historic data of organic milk and dairy product retail prices, noting regional and national factors, as they evaluate future organic dairy product strategies.

Market researchers for various investment funds and investment banks, not traditionally involved in the organic dairy sector, are looking at data describing performance of retail pricing and product emphasis, as decisions about future capital investments are made.

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With the harvest of feed in full swing there is uncertainty over yield and where the price will end up. With the increase in demand for organic poultry there is a very real competition for available feed and an increase in imports. In the Midwest and the Northeast, there is an adequate supply of conserved forage and late grazing. In the West, the picture continue to be bleak as the amount of affordable hay and feed available threatens the survival of organic dairies.

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