New England Dairy Farms On The Decline, Despite Positive Signs For Regional Agriculture

The number of dairy farms in Massachusetts dropped significantly between 2007 and 2012, according to US Census data out this month. That’s one negative trend among more positive signs for the state’s agriculture industry.

Overall farm sales held steady through the recession in Massachusetts, but the state lost 111 dairy farms, a 43 percent decline. This is part of a trend over the past sixty years, according to Phillip Korman, head of the group Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.  He says New England dairy farms that wholesale their milk are subject to prices set at the national level, which doesn’t match the cost of running a dairy farm in this region.

“We just don’t have huge swaths of undeveloped, flat grazing land here in New England,” Korman says. “The other part is we do have energy costs that can tend to be higher in New England, and we’ve had to face those issues…sooner than other parts of the country.”

Korman says many of the dairy farms that have survived are specialty operations that process their own milk and sell directly to customers. Other states also lost dairy farms during the recession, including a 31 percent drop in Connecticut, and 20 percent in Vermont.