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It’s getting harder for small dairy farmers to make it in Michigan

cow standing in a field of grass
Angelina Litvin
Small dairy farmers are having to find creative ways to survive as milk prices fall.


You might have noticed that milk in the refrigerated aisle is cheaper than before. That’s great for your wallet, but not so great for dairy farmers in Michigan.

An overproduction of milk in the state is driving down prices at the store. And that means small dairy farmers are having to rethink their business in order to make ends meet. 

Dustin Walsh writes for Crain's Detroit Business and recently reported about the overproduction of milkin Michigan.

He says that milk alternatives, organic, non-GMO, are among the recent food trends that have shifted supply and demand in the dairy industry. 

Also at play is the fact that while large dairy operations have been able to reduce the cost of milk productions, that hasn't been the case on smaller farms. Walsh says those small-scale producers are going to have a tougher and tougher time competing in a global marketplace. 

“Most the local farmers, your small mom-and-pop type farmers, are already part of a co-op that distributes the milk. I’m not sure what they can do to change the economic outlook of this because it’s not something that’s regional,” Walsh said. “I think you’re going to see a lot more farms... accept the reality that these dairy farms become petting farms, they're going to have ball tosses and corn pits.” 

Jim Byrum is the president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association and agrees that many farm owners are switching to organic and unique production to survive. Or they are getting creative about the non-dairy products and experiences they offer. 

Horning Farms in Manchester, Michigan has been open since 1877. Katelyn Packard works there as a sixth-generation dairy farmer. 


Michigan Radio's Tyler Scott visits Horning Farms in Manchester, Michigan.

Packard says entering a new industry is a daunting process for their family's farm. They’ve talked about raising male cattle for beef or turning the old barn into an AirBnB to help them stay afloat, but they haven’t made any moves yet.

The shrinking number of small dairy farms is impacting other parts of the dairy industry too. Anne and John Hoyt make artisan cheese together and co-own Leelenau Cheese.


John and Anne Hoyt own Leelanau Cheese

The Hoyts say the changing dairy industry nearly forced them to close their popular business. Having a cheese business takes an intimate relationship with the dairy farmers as every batch of cheese uses around 400 gallons of milk.  

Anne says even as the dairy industry changes, she hopes they will be able to keep their business focused on cheese. 

“I really want to see our little location here on M-22 stay in the food industry and not become a brewery or winery, which we already have so many now in Leelanau county,” Anne said. 

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