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Local News

March 26, 2013

Despite demand, area farms not growing

Farmers say yogurt boom means survival but not prosperity

Business costs and price regulations are among reasons local dairy farmers aren’t increasing the size of their herds, though yogurt producers in the state continue to report growing demand for milk, two farming sources said Monday.

But another farmer in Delaware County said the boom in the yogurt business overall has been a plus for the dairy industry.

“To see growth in processing is a positive thing,’’ said Barbara Hanselman of South Kortright who with her husband, Ernest, has managed a farm for 30 years. Their three sons, Seth, Kale and Ladd, all in their 20s and college graduates, have returned to the family farm, which has 60 milkers, she said, and a decision about whether to increase the herd will largely be up to them.

“They are our tomorrow,’’ she said. “It’s very exciting for us.’’

Meanwhile, Garret Sitts of Sittsco Holsteins in Franklin said there is no incentive for him to increase his herd of 85 milkers. While Chobani in South Edmeston has had “phenomenal success’’ producing yogurt and growing as a business, he said he is wondering “why am I struggling’’ with bills?

“What’s the incentive to get bigger?’’ he asked.

Sitts isn’t alone.

“Dairy farming is a very tough business,’’ Mariane Kiraly, farm management educator at the Cornell Cooperative Extension Delaware County, said.

Kiraly, who is completing annual dairy summaries, said many farmers are in their 50s and don’t see the point of adding more cows in a very uncertain economic environment. Banks won’t approve loans because of risks involved with milk production unless the farmer has a successor or is in a very good situation, she said.

“New investments to milk more cows involve not only cows, but buildings and milking equipment, more labor, more of everything — and many times more headaches,’’ Kiraly said in an email Monday. “Farmers weigh the risks and rewards accordingly and there aren’t a lot of incentives right now to make big investments.’’

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