Northern New York is one of the leading dairy-producing regions in New York State and the nation. Dairy farms in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties combined produced approximately 1.8 billion pounds of milk in 2010. That is a lot of milk! All three counties rank in the top 10 of dairy-producing counties in the state and top 50 counties in the United States.
We are also seeing continued growth in organic milk production in our region. According to Sharad Mathur, chief operating officer with Dairy Marketing Services, it is estimated that Northern New York has over 100 dairy farms producing about 5 million pounds of pure organic milk every day. Nearly one-third of the organic dairy farms in the state are located in Jefferson and St Lawrence counties. There are conventional dairy farms interested in converting to organic dairy production, but are looking for good markets for organic milk.
Organic milk is different than conventional milk in that certified organic dairy farms are required to follow strict guidelines that govern use of pesticides, herbicides and type of fertilizer applied to farms, the type of feed that can be used to feed cows and the management practices a farm may use to keep cows healthy. The price organic dairy farms receive for every one hundred pounds of milk they ship is generally higher than what conventional farms receive for their milk, but the cost of producing one hundred pounds of organic is generally higher than producing one hundred of conventional milk.
We are now seeing a limited number of farms further differentiating their production method by going to certified grass-based milk production. This certification required the farms to follow a different set of regulations regarding the use of grass in feeding cows on the farm. Certified grass-based farms receive an even higher premium than organic farms.
In our efforts to attract new agribusiness into Northern New York from Europe, this diversity in our milk production is important. Our office is currently talking with two dairy manufacturing companies that are interested in organic milk. The fact that Northern New York produces pure, high-quality milk, and especially is a leader in organic milk production, is critical to our efforts. Our area has potential to grow our dairy production, especially organic milk production, and that is what these two companies are looking at.
For the consumer, we are very fortunate to live in an area where you have choices between pure and nutritious choices in dairy products. Our farmers are fortunate that our soils, temperatures and terrain provide opportunities for diverse production methods that suit the management styles of the farm owners. Whatever your preference is for great tasting dairy products, Northern New York provides some of the purest milk available.
I couldn’t find a fortune teller with a crystal ball so I called two people who have a good grasp on what expectations are in the dairy industry for the coming year. They are members of the informal cadre of people I turn to for guidance on what is happening in agriculture. Ron Robbins is an owner of North Harbor Dairy Farm near Sackets Harbor, a 1,000-cow dairy operation. Ron’s family owns Old McDonald’s Farm, an agricultural educational and entertainment destination. Ron has served on a variety of state, regional and national organizations and was the state executive director of USDA Farm Service Agency for New York for a number of years.
Bruce Krupke is the executive vice president of Northeast Dairy Foods Association based in Syracuse, serving dairy processors across eight states in the northeastern United States. Bruce also serves on many state regional and national committees. Both Bruce and Ron do a good job of keeping their finger on the pulse of the dairy industry.
Dairy farmers have been suffering through very difficult times for the past two years. The price they are paid for their milk, measured in units of one hundred pounds of milk shipped, or hundredweights (cwt), has been well below the cost of production. The average cost of production in Northern New York tends to run at $18 per hundredweight or one hundred pounds of milk shipped. Prices have dipped as low as $14 per hundredweight over the last two years. At $14, if the price stayed that low the entire year, a 500-cow dairy with each cow producing an average of 90 pounds of milk per day per cow would lose approximately $657,000 for the year. That is a significant loss.
Mr. Robbins indicates that it is looking like prices will remain below cost of production until halfway through 2017. Why? According to Ron there is a tremendous supply of milk and milk products on the market. Even though demand is strong for dairy products, the low milk prices over the last two years allowed manufacturers to build a tremendous inventory of products that now has to work its way out of the system. Ron indicates that even though U.S. production continues to be “on a tear” with cow numbers increasing and production per cow moving higher, world production is coming down. That could be very beneficial to U.S. dairy prices paid to the farmer. Mr. Robbins believes the last six months of 2017 will hopefully see farm gate prices finally cross the profitable threshold. Unfortunately, it will take many months for farms to recoup the losses they’ve incurred through this low price cycle.
Bruce Krupke indicates a similar trend, anticipating prices to gradually rise into 2017. Mr. Krupke heavily emphasized the importance of the world market for U.S. products. “This is where our future lies” Mr. Krupke said. World dairy prices are rising enough to bring parity with U.S. dairy prices allowing our industry to become competitive. Bruce indicated that we would benefit most if we could achieve a good dairy trade situation with our neighbor to our north. Canada is putting heavy tariffs on ultra-filtered milk products that are hurting two dairy plants in New York, one in Batavia and one in Cayuga County. Bruce indicates concern that the situation will “back up” milk supply in the state.
I also asked both gentlemen about expectations for the impacts of the Trump administration on agriculture. Mr. Robbins said right now there is mixed expectations about President Trump. President Trump’s pro-business tendencies are welcomed in agriculture. The last several years of intense regulatory burden, rapidly increasing cost of business due to federal policies and heavily increasing tax burdens are expected to ease and that will be very welcome. Ron said there is a nervous anticipation within the industry at the same time. Agriculture, including the dairy industry, is heavily impacted by foreign trade. There is concern about the unknowns of the new president’s trade policies. Much work is being done behind the scenes to help the administration better appreciate the importance of trade to agriculture and our farms.
Bruce Krupke shared a very positive outlook for the business policies of President Trump. Mr. Krupke indicated he believes that the administration will be very business friendly and that should generate a positive outlook for dairy manufacturers. Bruce hopes that the president will improve our dairy trade opportunities with Canada which will especially benefit New York’s dairy industry.
Let’s hope that the expectations of both men are correct. Our dairy farmers need a light at the end of the tunnel. Prices have been too low for too long. If we can improve the business climate for our farms and manufacturers, the dairy industry can thrive. Should our business climate improve, perhaps more dairy or food manufacturing opportunities will come along.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated January as National Radon Action Month. The EPA notes that “Exposure to radon is a preventable health risk and testing radon levels in your home can help prevent unnecessary exposure. If a high radon level is detected in your home, you can take steps to fix the problem to protect yourself and your family.”
Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that can seep into your home from the ground. It is the second most common cause of lung cancer behind smoking. Basements or any area with protrusions into the ground offer entry points for radon. Radon tests can determine if high levels are present.
The EPA suggests testing your home for radon during January. You can purchase a kit and do it yourself or hire a professional. In New York state, the Department of Health (www.health.ny.gov) has a list of certified radon testers on their site. In addition, state residents can fill out a form and mail it with $11, to the department and receive a test kit in the mail. There is other radon related information on the site also.
During December, both the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors and the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors raised money and awareness for local charities.
In the early part of the month, both held their annual holiday parties that included fundraisers for their respective community service funds.
On December 8, the St. Lawrence County Board distributed $2100 to the Neighborhood Centers in Canton, Gouverneur, Massena, Ogdensburg, Potsdam, and Waddington. The Centers are overseen by the St. Lawrence County Community Development Program. Each center has a food pantry and assists with food and other emergencies such as utilities, fuel, and shelter. They work with families in the area of family development, budgeting, education, and job search. Similarly, the funds raised from the Jefferson-Lewis Board’s event went to support the Salvation Army, the Watertown Urban Mission, and other area charities. In addition, offices served as collection points for toiletries, food, and clothing that were distributed to the Jefferson County Children’s Home, Salvation Army, and Urban Mission.
On the 13th and 14th of December, Realtor members from both associations assisted at several area events. The St. Lawrence County membership volunteered their time at the seventh annual “Lights on the River” in Lisbon on December 13th. While there, they collected donations of canned goods and cash and helped direct the visitors viewing the displays. Contributions from the visitors go to about a dozen food pantries throughout the county. In its first six years, the event raised more than $100,000 and contributed approximately 28,000 pounds of food to area pantries.
December 14th saw Jefferson-Lewis Realtors brave the winds and snows to man some of the Salvation Army kettles in Watertown and LeRay. Members were helping the Salvation Army reach its goal of $115,000.
As you can see, Realtors do more than just work with buyers and sellers. They live in the communities and give back to the communities too. In addition to these charitable efforts, Realtors work all year volunteering their time and energy with various charities and community organizations.
During the respective holiday parties, the 2017 Board of Directors of each Association was installed. The role of the Board of Directors is to oversee the Association and set overall policy and direction.
The St. Lawrence County Board will be led by Debbie Gilson. Other officers will include Cheryl Yelle (Vice President), Doug Hawkins (Secretary), and Amanda Kingsbury (Treasurer). Directors will be Gail Abplanalp, Joel Howie, and Richard J. Wood. Rounding out the Board are Brittany Matott, State Director and Korleen Spilman, Immediate Past President.
Leading the Jefferson-Lewis Board will be Vickie Staie. The rest of the officers will be Alfred Netto (President-Elect), Britt Abbey (Vice President), Mary Adair (Treasurer), Nancy Rome (Recording Secretary), and Lisa Lowe (Corresponding Secretary). Directors include Tyler Lago, Elizabeth Miller, Gwyn Monnat, Cindy Moyer, and Randy Raso.