There’s often some friction between conventional dairy farmers and their raw-milk selling brethren. But where does it come from? David E. Gumpert, author of The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights, has talked to farmers on both sides of the divide. Mostly, it comes down to the business of milk. Dairy processors have no incentive for paying farmers well and farmers have no incentive for creating an exceptional product. That has to change.
From David Gumpert’s blog, The Complete Patient:
Here’s the message I get from Tim Wightman’s comment following my criticism of Organic Valley Family of Farms: Don’t be so quick to criticize this large farm co-op. There are some delicate political and economic issues involved here. Many dairy farmers have a big stake in the conventional co-op/processor distribution sytem, and at Organic Valley, farmers are being pinched financially because of a decline in consumption of pasteurized organic milk…and are resentful because some of their farmer brothers are making up for the financial challenge by selling raw milk. Besides, regulators and processors regularly communicate about routine issues, and may say a few things that sound conspiratorial. Cut us some slack.
It’s an intriguing message, coming as it does from a founder of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, and I can appreciate that there are business sensitivities. I actually think some of these sensitivities signify quite important issues, though. (By the way, if this is just a little internal misunderstanding, you might think that someone from Organic Valley might have at least had the courtesy to answer my email or phone call–there’s been only silence.)
I say all this while acknowledging that I don’t necessarily have special insights into farm economics and pscychology, having spent practically my entire life in the city, with little or no contact with farmers until the last three years.
But I’d like to throw something out that may shed light on what’s really happening here. I think many Wisconsin dairy farmers, indeed, dairy farmers everywhere, are more upset about the raw milk controversy than has been generally appreciated. I remember when the Ohio Department of Agriculture began cracking down on raw dairy producers back in 2006, being told by regulators there that some of the cases the agency was pursuing originated with complaints by conventional dairy farmers.
I’ve heard similar rumblings in other states–that it’s dairy farmers who are concerned because some of their brethren are challenging regulatory limitations on raw milk…and earning nice money in the process.
Now, I think it’s safe to say many of these upset dairy farmers are being urged on by processors, who have absolutely nothing to gain and lots to lose when dairy farmers transition to raw milk.