The Floundering Promise of Organic Milk


milk_flavorsThey say that if your budget can’t handle All Organic All the Time, the one most important thing to buy organic for your kids is milk.  And yet, at $6 per gallon, it’s a tough one, even if the rest of the cart is full of bargains.  I know I’m grateful for the not-organic-but-not-quite-conventional option of No Hormones/No Antibiotics milk myself, and that–at roughly half the price of organic–is what my family drinks.

And yet, I can’t help but feel for the family dairies that are suddenly seeing red after making the difficult and expensive switch to organic milk production.

For example, the New York Times tells the story of several family farmers who, promised stable, high milk prices forever, made the laborious and costly switch to organic.  When the economy was still booming, it looked like the demand for organic dairy products would never stop rising.  And now, faced with that high price tag, families tightening their budget belts are making food shopping compromises that cut out organic milk.

The farms that made the shift to organic are not only seeing their profits drop, some are even losing contracts with organic cooperatives that are glutted with product and need to cut back themselves.

One farmer has dipped into retirement savings to cover his expenses as organic feed for dairy cows has shot up by 100%.  Others are looking to sell their milk on the conventional market and/or directly to consumers at local stores or farmers’ markets.

Here’s hoping that a restructuring of distribution methods will save these farmers.  It’s a terrible shame that a shift to production methods that are better for everybody–the farmers and their families, the cows, the consumers, the planet–are ironically putting farmers out of business.  Maybe I’ll pick up a gallon of organic next week when I replenish our ‘fridge.  One gallon out of three might not be such a bad bite out of my budget, if it helps save an industry I so appreciate.

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