June is “National Dairy Month,” but this year, many New York family farmers say they have little to celebrate.
Before the month is over, dozens of them may be out of business, including six in Sullivan County.
CBS2’s Tony Aiello spent the day with some of them in the Catskills.
On a lush hillside overlooking the Callicoon Creek Valley is The Diehl Family Dairy Farm, established in 1842.
Adam Diehl is generation number five to run the milking operation with his wife, Alice. Their daughter, Michaela, hopes to be generation six.
“It’s in their bloodstream, it’s part of their DNA to be farmers” said Alice Diehl. “It’s what they do, it’s what they love to do.”
Family matriarch Alice Diehl says the twice daily milking ritual is weeks away from a reckoning.
“We’re scrambling to find another creamery to take us on and buy our milk wholesale,” said Alice Diehl.
The Diehl farm is one of six in Sullivan County, and 52 statewide, losing their wholesale contract. As of July, there’s no one to buy what they produce.
Farmer Tom Bose is the local supervisor who is working to help the six Sullivan farmers.
“Probably the most difficult time I’ve seen in my lifetime,” said Bose. “Mentally, physically, emotionally, horrible.”
Farm advocates say a good picture of the state of agriculture in Sullivan County can be found on Cattail Road where a barn is seen, collapsing, on one of the 60 dairy farms that have gone bust in the last 40 years.
Global forces are hitting local farms, everything from increased production in China, to Walmart bottling its own milk in Indiana. Tastes are changing too. The average American drinks 37% less milk today than in 1970.
Some consumers, choosing almond milk and other alternatives.
“I don’t know how you milk an almond, but, whatever,” joked Alice.
Farmers are encouraged that researchers are questioning the alleged link between whole milk and childhood obesity.
The Obama administration banned whole milk in schools. Farmers are working to overturn that. Some want a quota system to prevent mega-farms from producing so much milk it hurts family farms. Many want price supports so they at least break even.
“To create a floor, for the milk price,” said dairy farmer, Cindy Gieger. “So it can’t drop down below cost of production.”
“Elected officials can deal with this now,” said Wes Gillingham, Co-Director of Catskill Mountainkeeper. “They need to act now and address the problem and fix the situation that we’ve gotten ourselves into.”
Advocates say if not, expect to see more barns like the one on Cattail Road.