State ag secretary wants Dean to extend deadline

From staff reports

Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding has sent a letter to Dean Dairy Holdings following the announcement that the company provided termination notices to 42 Pennsylvania dairy farmers, effective May 31.

Redding’s correspondence requested Dean Foods to extend the deadline so those affected may more effectively transition to other markets.

“The Department of Agriculture supports the commonwealth’s dairy farmers, and is committed to providing communities with the resources and connections they need to ensure that our dairy industry will thrive in the years to come,” Redding said in a news release. “Expecting farmers to make life-changing decisions in the span of 90 days is difficult enough without all of the complexities associated with a business. These producers need more time to do what is right for them, their families, and their businesses.”

The dairy industry is currently experiencing challenges as processors consolidate or move, consumers choose non-dairy options and farmers see a surplus of product.

The letter dairy farmers received from Dean Foods acknowledged a decrease in fluid milk consumption as well as one of the nation’s largest retailers creating its own milk bottling plant in Indiana, as reasons behind the contract termination.

Walmart announced in 2016 that it was establishing a 250,000-square-foot milk processing plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

“We know that there are opportunities and that dairy will remain a key part of our agricultural sector for the foreseeable future, although the decisions dairy farmers and the commonwealth face over the next 12 to 18 months will significantly shape its prospects,” added Redding, pointing to recent studies performed for the Department and the Center for Dairy Excellence.

One study looked at the potential for Pennsylvania to support additional dairy processing plants. It found the state could support new plants for processing cheeses and that those plants could significantly reduce overall supply chain costs and create jobs, while also contributing to the economic activity to the state.

Last month, Redding testified before the House Agriculture Committee to discuss the crisis and ways the Department of Agriculture could help. Additionally, the department last week placed several resources online for dairy farmers experiencing hardship.