The western U.S. is experiencing an unprecedented drought that has created a dramatic increase in feed costs by as much as 50% due to feed shortages and drought-related operating costs. In response, Straus Family Creamery, a certified organic creamery that obtains milk from 12 independent certified organic dairy farms, has organized the Western Organic Dairy Farming Crisis Coalition. The coalition is asking both USDA and California officials for immediate emergency relief to help save organic dairy farms.
“Organic dairies in California are expecting an average financial loss of $250,000 this year and are at imminent risk of going out of business,” Albert Straus, founder and CEO of Straus Family Creamery, tells Food Quality & Safety. “Of the 106 organic dairies in California, we have lost 10 this year and expect to lose 10 more.”
Straus says that the coalition is trying to increase awareness about the drought to the public and to federal and state leaders. “We need emergency relief from the USDA and at the state level, or we could see a partial collapse of the regional organic dairy sector in the coming months. This will greatly impact rural economies’ stability and our local supply of organic milk and organic dairy products,” he adds.
The coalition hopes to see federal and state leaders provide disaster funding for organic dairy farms as soon as possible. “One short-term solution is to find a source of state or federal funding to offset the feed price premiums for hay and grain,” Straus said. “One of the goals is to have emergency funding in the December omnibus bill.”
The coalition is growing and working on building support from local politicians in each of its member’s communities. The group is also collaborating with other national dairy processors and brands to gain federal support and relief.
The coalition has drafted a letter to Thomas J. Vilsack, the USDA Agriculture Secretary, and Karen Ross, California’s Agriculture Secretary, about the challenges facing these farms.