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Dairy Farming in the North Country

Jason McCullom in the milking parlor of his dad Kevin's farm.
Kevin McCullom thinks he can outlast the low milk prices.
One of McCadam Cheese Co.'s five production lines.
Tina Montroy of Heuvelton has been working at McCadam for 15 years.
McCadam trucks ship cheddar, munster, and other cheeses all over the country, even to Scandinavia via McCadam's parent company, Valio Ltd.
At the beginning of the summer, the North Country dairy industry was dealt a serious shock. Kraft Foods announced it was considering closing its Canton plant after making award-winning cheddar there for more than fifty years. A shutdown would leave 70 people without jobs and have far-reaching effects throughout the region.

The time seemed right to look at the challenges facing dairy in the North Country. In part 1 we look at the price of milk, as seen through the eyes of one mid-size dairy farmer. In part 2 we visit a cheese manufacturer proposing drastic changes in the way North Country farmers do business. David Sommerstein reports.

Part 1: Surviving the Price of Milk

Listen to RealAudio  Budgeting on Dairy Farms Without a Steady Paycheck (4:52) 9/17/02

In this first part of our series on the dairy industry in the North Country, David Sommerstein looks at the price of milk as seen through the eyes of one mid-size dairy farmer. Email this story to a friend!

Related Links:
USDA's dairy page explains the milk pricing system
Cornell University's program on dairy markets

David Sommerstein talks with Julie Suarez of the New York Farm Bureau about how the price of milk is set on the national market. Email this story to a friend!

Part 2: Can Producers and Processors Collaborate?

The North Country dairy industry is built on manufacturing. Most of the milk cows produce is turned into something else—cheese, butter, yogurt, milk powder. The relationship between dairy farmers and the processing plants they sell their milk to is a symbiotic one. But like all close relationships, there can be tension, even outright feuds. In the second part of our series on dairy in the North Country, David Sommerstein looks at the relationship from one processorís point of view, who says the future lies in the two groups becoming one.
 Email this story to a friend!

Related Links:
McCadam Cheese website
New York Farm Bureau website

Commentary: A Dairying Life

Small dairy farms have been in steady decline in the North Country for decades. Commentator Jill Vaughan's farm is one that had to go out of business. But she says she's never stopped being a dairy farmer.  Go to full article

As in a study in the intractability of some of the problems facing the dairy industry, compare the two following stories from July 2000 and September 1987:

A group of North Country dairy farmers joined hundreds of others around the nation in dumping milk on the Fourth of July in 2000, to protest low prices. The group is part of a nationwide dairy industry push to ask Congress to give farmers more control over the price and distribution system for milk. More than 40 farmers and their families gathered on the Aubertine farm in Jefferson county on Independence Day and watched as thousands of gallons of fresh milk were drained from large tanker trucks into a manure pit. As the torrent of milk soaked into the ground, Todd Moe spoke with Vince Aubertine.

North Country farmers dumped milk to protest low milk prices fifteen years ago, on Labor Day, 1987. Dumping is the ultimate step for the farmer who has raised the cow, kept her, milked her. But theirs was more than a symbolic gesture. Two dozen farms were hoping their milk strike would catch on—that enough farmers would join in to turn the law of supply and demand to their cause. They were remembering the milk strike of 1967. Martha Foley visited the Mitchell farm just outside Canton and filed the story for North Country Public Radio, and NPR. At that time, there were 860 active farms in St. Lawrence County, one of the top dairy counties east of the Mississippi. They were making more per hundredweight of milk than farmers did in August 2002.