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Colorado’s endangered dairy farms

The most purchased item at grocery stores is a gallon of milk. There is demand, yet small family dairy farms are rapidly disappearing across the country. The country-wide rate is a 20 percent drop over the last five years. That is thousands of small dairies. Larger, corporate dairies are expanding production

Colorado’s rate is lower, but still declining. In Colorado there are a couple factors helping local dairies hang tough. A recent food factory with a milk-based product opened in recent years and increased demand for milk. Colorado farmers are also in a co-op to work for the best interest of all in the tough business. “Let’s not over produce ourselves so we’re in very nice balance, said farmer and owner of Rainbow Dairy, Will McConnell, “The milk produced in Colorado meets the customer’s needs, but we’re not having to relocate milk out of our market very much.”

McConnell has been running his dairy in Florence since 1990. “We’re here 24 hours a day.” It is hard work that he enjoys. “I love my cows, so that’s why I do what I do I do.” He keeps a herd of around 500 cows. In terms of dairies, his operation is relatively small.

He sees the trend of small dairy owners deciding to call it quits. “Since 2014 the price of milk for the average dairy farmer has not covered the cost of producing the milk.” He has no plans of becoming a statistic. “Keep hoping for the carrot out on the horizon that milk prices are going to get better and we’re going to get there and replenish and recoup and be able to keep on going.”

The issue for local farmers is due to national and global economics. A quota system of milk production in Europe lifted, allowing farmers there to produce more. The result is more milk than needed in the world market. “Our trade wars, embargos and all that stuff has had an effect on the dairy industry,” said McConnell. In addition, politics out of Washington D.C. impacts prices.

To counter the hit to his dairy income, McConnell works another full-time job. “It’s a good job. I enjoy my job and I get to work with cows there too.” Managing another operation brings extra income and benefits like health insurance. “I do it so my wife and I don’t have to take any living costs out of the dairy and everything the dairy generates stays in the dairy.”

There are also factors not part of accounting ledgers. “We feed a lot of people and that’s a pride thing too,” said McConnell, “We make food for other people. That’s a nice feeling.”


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