Current Weather
The Spy FM

New York’s Dairy Farmers Squeezed By Greek Yogurt Boom

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
September 3, 2013

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, which has surpassed even California’s yogurt industry. Steve Hyde, who directs the Genesee County Economic Development Corporation, 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 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.”

In the town of Batavia, where two yogurt plants have opened in the last two years, Hyde says Greek yogurt is just the beginning. The region’s 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]

Leave a Reply

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

Listen Live Now!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

10AM to 11PM On Point

On Point

On Point unites distinct and provocative voices with passionate discussion as it confronts the stories that are at the center of what is important in the world today. Leaving no perspective unchallenged, On Point digs past the surface and into the core of a subject, exposing each of its real world implications.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center