The drought has been tough on everyone this year. Our gardens aren’t producing as much as we’d like, our animals are tired and have little forage to graze, but we get by because we can always purchase what we need at the store, right? But what if what we purchase at the store is coming from our local farms, and they are struggling on a much larger scale? It’s tempting to think that the grocery store will always provide for us, but especially if we are talking about dairy, then we are really reliant on a much larger network than the grocery store chain. We are reliant on the local dairy farmers, all of whom are seeing the same drought conditions our backyard lawns and gardens are suffering from. And what might be an inconvenience of dry gardens for our own families in the short term is a state of emergency for our dairy economy, and for the people who work 24/7 to produce the milk on our tables. Our farm sits between two of these dairies, and we are watching the crisis unfold first hand.
This year’s record drought conditions have created a dairy crisis in our state. Without immediate aid, most of the 101 dairy farmers in New Hampshire will be forced to sell their milk cows for meat processing. Most of these farmers will become the last of many generations to farm their land, and will watch the farms sold off in pieces to cover their collapse expenses. Just within the last year, New Hampshire has already lost 19 farms, causing a 16% drop in local milk production (UNH Cooperative Extension). At a time when China is one of our country’s largest suppliers of apples and a large portion of our commercially-raised meat is being processed outside the country and imported back, do we really want the last major agricultural commodity in our state to go by way side? The movement to eat local is fueled in large part by dairy. Consider how many of the foods you enjoy contain dairy, and then consider whether you are willing to pay a premium to purchase those foods as imports. (Let’s not even open the can of worms that is the conversation about food safety if we are importing it form afar!)
Dot Perkins, the UNH Field Specialist for the Dairy, Forage and Livestock team, recently shared with us that UNH monitors forage crops each summer, and that this summer the crop loss is significant due to the lack of rain. “The silage corn crop is down 50% or more from last year in at least four of our ten counties, with the rest not much better off,” Dot said. “In Merrimack County alone, most growers only took one good cutting of hay, when in normal years they will take two, and sometimes even three. Those who were able to do a second cutting reported crop yield was only 25% of what it should be.” In the central part of the state drought conditions this year are in addition to a low crop yield during last year’s drier than average summer. Many of the dairy farmers already footed an expense last winter to purchase in hay and silage to feed their herds, and now they are faced with a crop loss that will force them to buy even more feed to get through this winter, a virtual impossibility for most.
To add insult to injury, Dot went on, milk prices paid to producers this past year have been extremely low. “The average price per hundred pounds of milk (cwt) is $14.00/cwt, but the cost of producing of that milk is an estimated $17.00/cwt. This has made it difficult – if not impossible – for most farmers to pay off the debt incurred by forage shortages last year,” Dot said. At a meeting on Monday August 29th in Claremont, dairy supporters spoke about how vitally important NH dairy farms are to our state economy. They keep over 70% of our open land open, adding to our aesthetic appeal. WMUR reported recently that close to 88 million dollars will be coming into the state from tourism this Labor Day weekend alone. Tourists – and their dollars – come to New Hampshire because of its rural character and open space. According to UNH Cooperative Extension, dairy farms also generate a third of our agricultural income, which goes directly into our economy. But it’s not just the farms themselves: consider the dominoes that line up to support an agricultural economy. Tractor and tractor part sales, grain, veterinary services, paper products – all of these are consumed by a dairy farm, and all in turn mean jobs for the people providing the services and supplies. In good rain years, dairy farms make feed for other animal enterprises, including hay for horses, cattle, llamas, alpaca, sheep and goats, all of which thrive on small agriculture business models, returning meat, cheese, fiber, and recreation to our economy. But most of all, our local dairy farms feed the majority of us three times a day. Very few families can self-supply the milk and dairy products they consume each day, and if prices rise due to imports, very few families will be able to afford them, either.
This issue has been raised with NH State Representatives and Senator Annie Kuster. They were asked to find a way to provide financial assistance to NH dairy producers as quickly as possible, to keep any more farms from going out of business and to help preserve one of NH’s most vital agriculture commodities. Governor Hassen and Senator Jean Shaheen have been contacted, to see where monies might be found for immediate aid while we seek more long term solutions. Representatives from Farm Bureau and UNH Cooperative Extension are assisting them by providing information about production and operating costs so a reasonable dollar amount can be calculated. Trucking and purchase of forage from as far away as Pennsylvania may be necessary. Some New England states have petitioned their governors for stimulus monies, and NH needs to do the same. We expect a meeting with government officials right after Labor Day weekend.
If you are in favor of helping our dairy farmers, please send an email or call the Governor’s Office to voice your support of allocating immediate emergency funds to our dairy farmers. Only by voicing our opinions in a unified manner will the cries for help from our dairy farmers be heard. Call the Governor and your Representative, and tell them we need immediate aid. Spread the word! Like this page and repost it so all concerned citizens can join the cause.
Milk: it does the body good, and the state too.
Also see the article by Elodie Reed in the August 30th Concord Monitor: Dying Dairies: How Drought, Low Milk Prices Lead to Decline in NH Farms
Ray is part of the Ray and Randi duo, who actually don't live on the farm. They have a micro-homestead in Gilmanton, but are VERY active over at IFP and are guest bloggers for them.
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