New York's Dairy Farmers Squeezed By Greek Yogurt Boom | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

New York's Dairy Farmers Squeezed By Greek Yogurt Boom

Play associated audio

Upstate New York has lugged around the Rust Belt identity for decades now.
But today, the region is trying on a new reputation as the king of yogurt — especially the high-protein Greek yogurt that consumers crave.

Greek yogurt leaders Chobani and Fage started the boom in 2007 and 2008, and production has tripled since then. Now there are more than 40 yogurt plants scattered across the state, surpassing even California's yogurt industry. Steve Hyde, who directs the Genesee County Economic Development Corp., calls New York "the Silicon Valley of yogurt."

But can New York's dairy farmers keep up?

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature have passed all kinds of programs to induce dairy farmers to meet the milk demand. There are grants for modern milking equipment, new business plans and anaerobic digesters that turn manure into electricity.

But even with all that, New York's dairy herd is no bigger than it was last year.
Mike Kiechle, a small dairy farmer, says he's one of the ones who would like to expand but can't.

One big problem is that milk doesn't obey the laws of supply and demand. A federal formula sets the milk price farmers are paid by region. And that price doesn't necessarily rise because there are a bunch of Greek yogurt plants looking for milk nearby. So to add, say, 50 cows, Kiechle's looking at a frightening risk.

"I'm going to have to have some more land," Kiechle says. "My equipment's not big enough. My barn's not big enough. And the return that we've had the last 10 years, you've got to think twice before you invest your money there."

Despite the challenges small farmers are facing, New York is producing about 3 percent more milk. Farmer Shelly Stein says that's because a lot of bigger dairy farms are milking smarter. They're encouraged by the Greek yogurt future, so they're investing in new technology and bigger, cleaner barns that make the cows more productive.

"I now have a stable market and a demand for our milk," says Stein. "It allows us to invest in growing our business, attracting our young people back to our farm businesses and showing a greater investment into what makes us efficient."

Hyde says in the town of Batavia, where two yogurt plants have opened in the last two years, Greek yogurt is just the beginning. The region is becoming a hub for food processing of all kinds, from Buffalo-wing-flavored cheese to frozen vegetables to fancy mushrooms.

But what if people get sick of Greek yogurt and move on to the next fad? Well, upstate New York isn't ready to think about another bust just yet.

Copyright 2013 North Country Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/.

NPR

Amazon Deal With Simon & Schuster Raises Questions For Other Publishers

Amazon has received a fair amount of bad press lately over its long-running dispute with the Hachette publishing house. So Monday's announcement of a deal with Simon & Schuster took some industry watchers by surprise.
NPR

From NFL To 'Scandal,' Whole Foods Buys TV Ads To Boost Its Brand

A pioneer in selling organic, sustainable groceries, Whole Foods now finds itself beset by competitors. So it's launching its first national ad blitz to sell socially conscious consumers on its story.
NPR

Obama Has To Balance His Base Without Hurting Dems In Red States

If Democrats have a chance of hanging onto Senate seats in southern states, they need to do well with African American voters. But for President Obama, that creates a difficult balance between turning out the base and energizing GOP voters who don't like him.
NPR

In Silicon Valley, Paying For Access To Peace Of Mind

The San Francisco area is the home to the high-tech sector and has a history of embracing Eastern spirituality. Now the two meet in the yoga and meditation classes popular with the local tech workers.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.