Low milk prices are increasingly forcing small Ohio dairy farmers out of business and third- or fourth-generation family farms are in danger of closing down.
Prolonged low prices for milk have left farmers in the region and around the country feeling squeezed. In the past decade, there has been a 33 percent decrease in Ohio dairy farms. And in the past year, the number of farms have dropped from 2,405 to 2,237, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
But one farmer thinks the substitution of skim milk turned people off to the taste of milk and towards soda and other drinks.
“The local schools and nation wide started providing fat free milk and that has affected the taste of the milk,” said Steve Buschur, who runs Buschur Dairy Farms in northern Darke County with three other brothers.
Here are five other things you need to know about the shrinking dairy industry:
1. HARDEST ON SMALL FARMERS
Buschur has about 670 cows milked three times a day — a medium sized dairy farm — and said it has been hardest on the smaller farmers and the newer ones just getting started who have more debt.
2. MILK PRICES GOOD FOR CONSUMERS
Milk prices in 2014 averaged $23.16 per 100 pounds, according to the Ohio State University Extension, and in April, the average was $14.43, a 38 percent drop. The price drop is good for consumers going to the grocery. Last week, the average gallon of milk was $2.94, compared to $3.68 a gallon 10 years ago.
3. LICENSED DARK COUNTY FARMS DROP
The number of licensed Darke County dairy farms has dropped from 56 in 2014 down to 37 today. Darke County is the second highest agriculture producing county in the state.
4. CONSUMERS DRINKING LESS
In spite of the price decrease, consumers are drinking less milk. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, consumption has dropped 16 percent in the past 10 years.
5. MORE EFFICIENT
Farmers have found ways to be more efficient and produce more milk. For example, milk production used to slow down during hot months because of heat stress but now farmers can do more to control cows temperatures. And while dairy farms in general have gotten more efficient, there are also more large scale, high production farms with thousands or tens of thousands of cows, Buschur said.