2017-11-16 / Front Page

Dairy families can’t cope with prices

Two stop production
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

Wine lovers may have to forgo local cheese with their next glass of vino — which represents a minor setback compared to the business decisions forced upon county dairy farmers.

The closure of a second county dairy operation due partially to low milk prices is forcing John and Anne Hoyt of Leelanau Cheese to go outside the county for a raw product essential to their trade.

They’ve been crafting award-winning cheese from locally produced milk since 1995.

The Schaub family that has been milking cows on their French Road farm for four generations has sold off much of its Holstein herd, leaving their older cows to live out the rest of their days on the farm and a few left for breeding.

Twice daily milking sessions on the farm have stopped as profits have dried up, ending a more than 80-year tradition.

“It’s part of who we are,” said Adam Risbridger, whose great-great-grandfather Jacob Schaub was among the first to settle in what is now Lake Leelanau. “It’s our way of life.”

It’s a way of life that appears to be falling by the wayside.

Denis and Joan Garvin of Solon Township also called it quits earlier this year. They declined a request for comment.

Increased costs and low milk prices have at least one other county dairy man questioning how long he’ll be in business.

“If I had to start out, I wouldn’t make it,” said Clarence Stachnik who started his operation in 1980 with six cows. “The past 15, 20 years, haven’t been worth a crap.”

Increased production has been key to dropping milk prices.

According to the Michigan Farm Bureau, U.S. milk production for 2016 totaled 212.5 billion pounds, up 1.9 percent from 2015. The U.S. dairy herd finished 2017 with 9.333 million milk cows, producing an average of 22,770 pounds per cow.

As a result, Michigan went from the middle of the pack to rock bottom nationally in terms of price paid per hundredweight, or hundred pounds, of milk. In 2016, Michigan milk prices averaged $14.31, more than $1.50 less than the national average of $15.95.

The cost of doing business — feed, fuel and transportation — has gone the other way, squeezing what little profit there was in milk production to next to nothing.

“The prices are not where they should be,” said Elmwood Township dairyman Terry Lautner, the other Leelanau farmer still milking locally and a handful operating in the Grand Traverse area. “It hasn’t been profitable for three years.”

Closure of the Schaub and Garvin milk operations could have negative consequences for Leelanau Cheese. Yesterday morning the Hoyts were on the road picking up milk more than 60 miles away in East Jordan.

“We’re now forced to source our milk from different farms, far away from the creamery,” said Anne Hoyt, who with her husband, John, has been making local cheese for 22 years. “We will spend more time driving to haul a batch of milk, increasing our footprint and raising the cost of production.”

About 300 gallons of milk goes into each batch of raclette at Leelanau Cheese.

The Hoyts, whose product won a Super Gold award at the 2016 World Cheese Awards in San Sebastian, Spain, are sympathetic to the farmers’ plight.

“We understand their decision and respect it,” Hoyt said. “Dairy farming is hard labor. There’s not enough help around the farm and most of all, not enough to pay the bills.”

At a minimum Leelanau Cheese customers will be feeling the pinch when they purchase their next round of raclette.

However, without a steady flow of easily accessible milk, the Hoyts may also face a difficult business decision.

“We don’t know how long we will be able to keep going,” Hoyt said. “We might be forced to go out of business as well.

“No milk. No cheese… For right now we are going to try a new routine. We’ll see how it goes.”

Meanwhile, the Schaubs, whose 90-year-old patriarch Leonard went twice daily to the barn to milk every day for about 80 years, are hoping that their way of life won’t be lost on future generations.

“From the time Grandpa started milking at age 11, he never missed a day and only overslept once when he was 23,” said Risbridger, his grandson.

Grandpa Schaub has taken a lesser role over the past couple years, leaving the milking to his son, Ron, and Adam’s brother, Eric Risbridger.

“It’s taken amazing dedication to this way of life,” Adam Risbridger said. “It’s in my blood and will be in my children’s.”

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Article does not discuss 2014

Article does not discuss 2014 Farm Bill and assistance by Federal Government to Milk Producers. Please refer website to: https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2016/08/04/usda-announces-safe...