Friday, June 28, 2013

June is Dairy Month -- Cooperatives Play a Big Role in New York State Dairy

Most dairy farmers don't have the time to go out and sell their milk and dairy products to stores or manufacturing plants.

That's where dairy cooperatives come in. And some of the top dairy cooperatives in the United States are here in New York or handle milk from New York farms.
Photo from Wikipedia

One of the biggest -- often coming in at number 5 on Hoard's Dairyman's list of the top 50 cooperatives -- is Dairylea, right here in Syracuse. Others that make the list are Upstate-Niagara, Agri-Mark (Cabot Creamery Cooperative), Organic Valley/CROPP, Lowville Producers Dairy Cooperative and Cortland Bulk Milk Producers Co-Op.

The largest cooperative is Dairy Farmers of America, which has its Northeast office in East Syracuse. According to its website, the Northeast area consists of 1,467 member dairy farms, handles 3.1 billion pounds of milk annually and provides milk to customers such as Chobani, Hershey Foods, HP Hood, Great Lakes Cheese, Kraft Foods, Leprino Foods and Sorrento/Lactalis.

According to a 2007 study of cooperatives in New York done by now-retired Cornell Senior Extension Associate Brian Henehan, cooperatives have a long history in New York state, dating to the 1800s when a group of dairy farmers in Orange County got together in 1844. 

"The Orange County Milk Association was organized to represent members in bargaining for prices received for their milk from cheese processors," Henehan wrote in his story. 

Henehan said in 2007, there were 64 milk cooperatives in the state -- the most of any state. In 2003, New York accounted for 32 percent of all the dairy cooperatives in the United States, Henehan said in his study.

While most cooperatives still market farmers' milk to milk and dairy product manufacturing plants, Henehan said there are different types of cooperatives.

Photo from Cornell University
According to Henehan's study, Services and Bargaining coops offer products and services to members, while Export Cooperatives export bulk, dry milk products to other countries. Operating coops manufacture finished, branded consumer products such as cheese or fluid milk while Bargaining coops negotiate prices, coordinate collection and hauling of milk and negotiate terms of delivery of milk.

So, during Dairy Month, we all should not only thank the farmers, but also give a shout out to the cooperatives who move the milk, make sure it gets to a place to be made into milk to drink or fabulous cheese, yogurt or ice cream to eat and work to get the best price they can for their member farmers.

Go to to see the Hoard's Dairyman most recent list (October 2012) of the top 50 dairy cooperatives in the United States.

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