New bill would create more options for local milk producers

  • Benjamin Meier of Temple-Wilton Community Farm uses the farm's raw milk to make cheese and yogurt. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Benjamin Meier of Temple-Wilton Community Farm uses the farm's raw milk to make cheese and yogurt. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Benjamin Meier of Temple-Wilton Community Farm uses the farm’s raw milk to make cheese and yogurt. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/13/2021 9:45:01 AM

Dairy farms are struggling with lessened demand and low milk prices, forcing milk producers to look for new ways to stay profitable. A new piece of legislation would allow small farms to create more products with their raw milk – something dairy farmers say is crucial to staying viable in today’s market.

The dairy business has long been difficult for farmers to make a profit, as overseas demand for milk has dropped, causing prices locally to decline – and along with it, profits for farmers.

One of the ways to boost those profits is to make “value added” products – like turning milk into cheese, yogurt or cream.

A new bill, HB 95, currently proposed in the New Hampshire House of Representatives would provide some additional options to small raw milk producers. Currently, small producers – those making less than 20 gallons of raw milk or product per day – can sell raw milk, cheese, yogurt or kefir from their farms, farm stands or farmers’ markets. If passed, the bill would also allow frozen yogurt and ice cream made from raw milk, as long as it is in 6 ounce containers or less and is marked with a 30-day expiration date from its manufacture.

Raw milk is a controversial product, with about half of U.S. states outlawing its sale due to the risk of harmful bacteria that are eliminated in the pasteurization process. The pasteurization process can also strip out some of the natural enzymes and nutrients in milk, though the Center for Disease Control has said the American diet compensates for the nutrition that is lost in the process. 

In New Hampshire, farms that produce raw milk products must undergo regular testing and meet required minimums for bacteria to continue being sold – the same requirements as pasteurized milk – and New Hampshire allows the sale of raw milk commercially, not just from the farm. 

There is a demand locally for raw milk, and producers said that when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it only heightened that demand.

Julie Davenson, executive director of Stonewall Farm in Keene, said the farm was preparing to start selling raw milk last March, and made the jump early when there was a sudden heightened demand. The farm is currently transitioning to making more raw milk products, though they have not started selling them from the farm, yet, Davenson said.

Davenson said every option that’s left available to farmers is a step in the right direction of keeping dairy farms viable.

“I think it’s helpful. Dairy farmers have been feeling the squeeze. It would be impossible if they didn’t have the option to do any of these things. We have 30 cows, and if we were simply selling milk, we could not make ends meet,” Davenson said.

Many small farms already supplement their farm sales with processed products, such as Temple-Wilton Community Farm, which turns its milk into cheese and yogurt.

“That would be amazing,” said Temple-Wilton Community Farm cheesemaker Benjamin Meier, speaking of the potential to add ice cream and frozen yogurt to the farm store’s offerings. “Every product you can make is super helpful. The New Hampshire dairy system has been declining for 10 years. You can’t make it as a dairy farm selling milk alone.”

“The more diverse you can be, the more profit is available,” Felicia Sartell of Sartell Farm in Temple said. The Sartells own only three cows, enough to produce about 50 gallons of milk a week, which they sell from their farm and turn into cheese and yogurt.

Diversity in general has become increasingly important for small farms that are looking to attract regular customers. Keeping these farms viable is in everyone’s best interest, Davenson said.

“Dairy suppliers are a backbone of the local agricultural economy,” Davenson said. “We need to be doing more to support them. Smaller dairy farms are part of the local regional food system. This is a step in the right direction of allowing farmers to do what they need to survive.”

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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