Dairy Sector Riding out the Nor'easter Storm

January 27, 2015 03:47 PM
Dairy Sector Riding out the Nor'easter Storm

Dairy farms, milk haulers and processing plants are weathering the region’s blockbuster blizzard.

The blizzard that has paralyzed much of the Northeast U.S. is not over yet, but, so far, the dairy sector appears to be riding out the storm without major problems.

“It’s been a hard 24 hours with blowing snow and slow going on the roads, but we’ve been able to get to all the dairy farms to pick up their milk,” said Tim Riel, who heads milk-hauling operations for Dairy Farmers of America’s (DFA) Northeast division.

Based in Concord, N.H., his fleet of four trucks and 15 drivers hauls milk for some 50 dairy farms in New Hampshire and Vermont. The fleet typically picks up 330,000 pounds of milk a day from those dairies – and this week has been no different.

“This is a commodity that has to go – it can’t wait until tomorrow,” Riel said. “Some of the farms don’t have the capacity to wait two days day for milk haulers.”

Because this was a predicted storm, milk haulers have been able to re-rout milk from Vermont to processing facilities outside of the storm’s affected area, said Dan Scruton, dairy section programs chief with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets. Vermont is home to 900 dairy farms.

Much of the credit for the continuous milk hauling goes to the truck drivers and their 18-wheeler skills and endurance under hazardous driving conditions. “This is a highly demanding job, and my drivers are second to none,” said Riel.

Vermont and inland New Hampshire have been spared from the earlier predictions of heavy snow. Instead of 2-3 feet of expected snow, Riels said only about 8 inches had fallen in his area. He knew of a couple of dairies that had experienced power outages but they had back-up generators to restore electricity to milk-barn operations.

The hardest hit area is southern New England, according to Bob Gray, executive director of Northeast Dairy Farmers Cooperatives. He spoke today with a source at Agri-Mark, one of New England’s largest milk suppliers. Within Agri-Mark's territory, Connecticut and Massachusetts have taken the brunt with over 2 feet of snow. A travel ban is in effect in Massachusetts and roads are closed.  

“Some pick-ups at dairies are every day and others are on an every-other-day schedule,” Gray reported. “If they can get on the roads either later today or first thing tomorrow morning, they should be OK. However, there may be some dumping if the bulk milk trucks can’t reach the farm and extra storage capacity is lacking.”

Connecticut has 130 dairy operations, Massachusetts 155 and Rhode Island 15, “so the storm missed the heaviest concentration of farms in New York and Vermont---although try telling that to some producer in Connecticut who is completely snowed in,” Gray noted.

The storm has also forced plant closings in southern New England, so DFA has had to re-route milk to other plants, Gray added. 

In the north New Jersey and New York City areas, where the storm is hitting hard, Land O’Lakes has no farms or processors, member relations manager Ronald Davis said yesterday afternoon. The Northeast milk supply of the well-known dairy manufacturer is mostly in Pennsylvania, Western New York and New Jersey.  “We have one processor in south Jersey, as well as members, and they are calling for 12 to 18 inches of snow," Davis said. “We most likely will have some delays in this area but do not expect to lose any milk.”

This week’s storm has bypassed Western New York, where the majority of the state’s dairy farms and processors are located. That area was hit hard by a late November storm that brought 8’ of snow to the area and caused delays in milk pick-ups, forcing dairies to dump milk.

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