Friday, August 14, 2009


1980 was a benchmark year for dairy farmers. Most dairy farmers probably voted thinking government was the problem. Dairy farm prices have plummeted since that time. Perhaps government really is the problem now, not because of what government does but, because of what the government doesn’t do – protect dairy farmers from bullies.

In 1980 dairy co-ops handled 77% of the nation’s milk. In 2007 dairy co-ops handled 84.4%. Not only that the number of co-ops have fallen dramatically. We now are in the era of the bully co-op that cannot or will not deliver a decent milk price to farmers.

Number of co-ops 1980 vs 2007 %
Bulk raw milk 38.6%
Butter 12.8%
Nonfat dry milk 29.2%
Natural cheese2 19.7%
Cottage cheese 14.3%
Packaged fluid milk products 21.7%
Ice cream 15.8%

There are some good co-ops. There are some co-ops with transparency, but, the mega co-ops are as opaque as a block wall.

Most people think the Capper Volstead Act is the over-arching law governing co-ops. In fact the bulk of cooperative law is state law.

We should have, on a state by state basis, laws, sunshine laws which make larger corporation transparent, apply to larger cooperatives.


  1. What we need are some small co-op efforts that think outside the cheddar box, will treat the small producer fairly and maintain their integrity and not become little DFA's. Our farm hasn't shipped milk in almost 2 years now because we can't put 4,000 lbs on the truck (we have a 3,000+ bulk tank) milk grazed jerseys and have a small 120 acre farm. We had been organic but learned some sad truths about big organic co-ops. We survive (barely) by raising organic grain, steers and working off. Truthfully I have no sympathy for the big, land-hog dairy farms that are now in financial trouble, maybe they should become more "efficient".

  2. we ship to an independent dairy with 70% class 1 utilisation and they dont pay a wwhole lot better than the coops

  3. The large co-ops we have today represent their members about as well as Congress represents voters. Co-op managers seem to act more and more like politicians also. Capper-Volstead can and will work so long as the co-ops are willing to use it. Problem is they seem to be less inclined to do so. DFA is way to cozy with Deans Foods. Notice also that the growth in cheese making by co-ops has not grown as much as other products have since 1980. Especially in the West with the expansion of Leprino and Hilmar cheese.