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Falling demand for milk puts the future of Sullivan dairy farms at risk

Daniel Diehl has worked on his family’s dairy farm since he was 8 years old.

Now 23, he works from sunrise to sunset taking care of the farm’s 120 cows, feeding and milking them twice a day.

His uncle, Jack Diehl, owns the approximately 400-acre farm, and at 68 years old is eyeing retirement.

“I’d love to inherit it,” Daniel Diehl said. “It’s all I know.”

But outside forces, such as the law of supply and demand, have put the future of the Diehls’ dairy farm in jeopardy, along with five others in Sullivan County.

In late May, the Diehls received notice from their milk broker, Marcus Dairy Inc. in Connecticut, that it will no longer purchase their product, according to Jack Diehl.

The other farms affected by the broker’s decision are Diehl Homestead Farm in Callicoon, which is run by Jack’s nephew, Adam; Earl Myers Century Farm in Jeffersonville; Weissmann Dairy Farm in Callicoon; Dan Peters Farm in North Branch; and Kays Farm in Callicoon, according to Melinda Meddaugh, agriculture and food systems team leader for Cornell Cooperative Extension Sullivan County.

Originally, Jack and Daniel Diehl had until June 30 to find another milk buyer, but they have since received two extensions to get through July.

“This stresses you out – let’s put it that way,” Jack Diehl said.

“I guess you got to just take one day at a time and put your head up.”

It’s not just Sullivan County farms feeling the pain.

The whole dairy industry is suffering from low prices and surplus milk, according to Michelle Lipari, agriculture educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension Sullivan County.

“Pretty much all these plants and cooperatives, there is too much milk and not enough demand, which is what you’re seeing with a lot of the other cooperatives also having to let farmers go,” Lipari said.

“It’s the classic supply-and-demand issue that’s going on.”

Falling demand sends ripples through all the other industries involved in helping dairy farms run, Meddaugh said.

In Sullivan County, dairy farms directly contribute $7 million per year to the local economy and indirectly contribute an additional $5 million, according to Meddaugh.

The Diehls are searching for a new buyer.

Cornell Cooperative Extension Sullivan County is working with a consultant funded by the county’s industrial development agency to find short- and long-term solutions for these dairy farms to sell their milk, Meddaugh said.

U.S. Rep. John Faso is lending a hand as well, making calls to dairy processors in the region.

“Unfortunately, so far we’ve not been successful,” said the Kinderhook Republican who represents the 19th Congressional District.

He echoed sentiments about the negative economic effect on the region if these farms were to close and worried about additional ramifications to domestic agriculture.

The Diehl Farm has been in Daniel and Jack’s family since the early 1960s.

Their family also runs a construction business and the Sportsmens Den, a hunting and fishing supplies store, to help prop up the farm’s income.

“Everything contributes just to keep the cows eating,” Daniel Diehl said. “It’s tough.”

Without a new buyer for the milk, the farm will close.

Neither Daniel nor Jack know what they would do if they couldn’t be a farmer.

“This is my life,” Jack Diehl said.

Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that $30 million is available through the state’s Farmland Protection Implementation Grants Program to help dairy farms diversify operations, transition them to the next generation and ensure the land remains used for agriculture through conservation easements.

“New York’s dairy industry is critical to local economies across the state and we must ensure that our dairy farmers have the resources they need to thrive among the challenges of the current marketplace,” Cuomo said in a news release.

Jack and Daniel Diehl were skeptical that the program could help their situation, saying they were concerned about potential strings associated with money from the government.

In the meantime, they encouraged the public to buy local milk, warning that they won’t be the last farm to face this crisis.

“It’s not gonna stop here,” Jack Diehl said. It’s gonna happen to other farms, too.”


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