cows in field

Message from the NODPA President

By Liz Bawden, NODPA Board Co-President

The first time I put a bandana over my face to enter my bank, it felt surreal. Now, most of us have adapted to the new normal in these days. We get it. We wear a mask in public, don’t shake hands or hug our friends anymore. Maybe we don’t visit our elderly relatives. We sanitize the doorknobs and dip stick in the milkhouse. We set boundaries and keep our distance. On small family-run farms like ours, it’s easier to keep up the social distancing. These are decisions we make to keep the people in our lives safe; it’s an act of kindness to protect others.

It’s with some sadness that we have to announce in this newsletter that the 2020 NODPA Field Days will be postponed until September 2021. As with most conferences and face to face meetings that were scheduled during this year, the risk to all is just too great right now. We will be printing a special September edition of the NODPA News with features from some of our plans for the Field Days, so you can look for that in the mail, and read more about it in this issue.

While the whole world seems to be in a tailspin, it seems that sales of organic products, including milk, have surged ahead. Even the conventional milk price has rallied, leaving many scratching their heads as to why this happened, and how long it can last. Neighbors in my area continue to sell out, both conventional and organic. Sometimes for retirement, but most often it is because the pay price has been lower than the cost of production for long enough to erode the farm’s equity, leaving them no way to continue. All the organic brands have a supply management system of their own, so in these times when sales have been strong, this should be reflected in a strengthening of the pay price. As I stood in front of the milk display at the grocery store last week, half gallons of branded organic milk were selling for $4.99 and up. It has been roughly the same price for a few years. But farmers shipping to those national brands are paid $10 less per cwt. than a few years ago. And the milk costs the same. To every dairy person I know, I ask why? After all, isn’t this what the market adjustment premiums were meant to do? They were to be used to fairly compensate farmers as the market changes. The answer I get boils down to fear.

Processors are afraid that market conditions will change dramatically because of the uncertainty of our new COVID economy. Producers are afraid to open the discussion with processors about their contracts for fear of being cast off, and left without a market at all.

A wise man once said that decisions strictly borne out of fear will usually be the wrong ones. One of the highlights of the annual Field Days is the early morning producer-only meeting. It’s where producers may speak their mind without fear of reprisal or judgement. Although I will miss that session because it's spawned some great conversations over the years, I am happy to report that we will be having a conference call Producer-Only Meeting in early October, and we will have more details in the Field Days Supplement of the September NODPA News. We can still create great things when we speak our truths.

So, let’s be fearless. Not crazy; but to live our lives where decisions are not made by fear. Let’s speak our truth to consumers about why we farm organically. Let’s speak our truth to our certifiers about the bad actors in organics. Let’s speak our truth to our processors that this cannot be the new normal for our industry.

I hope that you, your family and community continue to stay healthy!