July 9, 2007

Higher milk prices help farmers, but can drive down consumption


Bob Ellis/staff photographer   
Eric Sears stacks crates of milk in the cooler at Bill Bros. Dairy on Port Watson Street Friday morning.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Milk prices on store shelves have soared in recent months, with gallons of whole milk selling as high as $4.38 in some local stores.
“I don’t ever remember our prices being this high, ever,” John Sears said of the $3.79 price tag on gallons of whole milk at Bill Bros. Dairy & Farm Market on Port Watson Street in Cortland.
The increase reflects higher costs for farmers and an increased global demand for milk proteins, according to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.
While the increase is helping local farmers — who have suffered over the last year with extremely low prices coupled with higher fuel, electricity and feed costs — it is hurting some local consumers, who say they have had to cut back on their consumption of milk and other dairy products.
According to statistics from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets’ Division of Milk Control and Dairy Services, the average retail price of a gallon of whole milk in upstate New York supermarkets in 2006 was $2.40.
Now, gallons of whole milk range from $2.69 at Wilson Farms in Cortland to $4.38 at P&C in Cortland. Most stores sell gallons of whole milk somewhere in the $3 range.
The average price jumped by    44 percent, based on a random sampling this morning of stores that sell whole milk. That compares with a 47 percent increase from June 2006 to last month for what farmers were paid for their milk on average.
Debbie Greene, 45, of Cortland, was shopping at Wal-Mart with her daughter, Dawn, 16, on Friday morning. The self-avowed milk lovers, who live together, said they have cut back on milk by a couple of gallons a month since the prices started going up earlier this year.
They still always have a gallon in the fridge, she said, but they just drink it less often.
“It’s like I’ll chill out on the milk a little bit,” Debbie Greene said.
Chuck Clute, 62, and his wife, Marian, of Lisle, also were shopping at Wal-Mart in Cortlandville on Friday morning. The Clutes, who buy their milk 10 gallons at a time from the Byrne Dairy factory in Syracuse, said they similarly have cut back on milk by a couple of gallons a month.
They would not have to cut back so much, they said, if each month they did not have to spend $200 in medicine co-payments and $200 on gas.
But they do not feel too sorry for themselves, they said. Instead they feel bad for parents, like their daughter-in-law, who are unable to buy enough milk for their children.
“I think it’s a shame it has to go up because the kids really need it, and a lot of kids aren’t going to get it,” Marian Clute said.
Sears at Bill Bros. said that, since January, he has seen about a 5 percent drop in milk sales, both at the retail and wholesale level. He said he suspects the 70-cent increase in price per gallon explains that drop.
The store had to raise the price it sells milk for as a result of higher prices charged by dairy processors. The store is paying twice as much for milk this month as what it paid a year ago.
The increase in price for skim milk parallels the increase farmers are seeing in monthly checks.
On average farmers are receiving $18.60 per hundredweight this month for all of their different milk types, said Jeffrey Crandall, manager of the Preble Milk Cooperative.
That compares with an average of $13.85 per hundredweight paid to farmers in 2006, $15.87 per hundredweight paid to farmers in 2005 and $16.78 per hundredweight paid to farmers in 2004, according to statistics from the Division of Milk Control and Dairy Services.
Crandall, like the state, said an increased demand for milk mainly explains why the region’s market administrator has raised the prices paid to farmers.
Three farmers interviewed last week said they are thrilled about the higher prices because the additional revenue is helping them recover from a tough 2006, during which prices did not keep up with increasing fuel, electricity and feed costs.
The farmers, however, are skeptical the high prices will last. Milk prices have followed a roller coaster trajectory in recent years, and there’s no reason to believe that bumpy ride won’t continue.
“It ain’t gonna last, that’s a fact of life,” said Gary Cornell, 56, who has a 130-cow dairy farm in Marathon.
Bill Hakes, 44, leases land in McGraw for his 100 dairy cows. He said it would be nice to have a better idea of when the peaks and dips will take place, but even experts have a tough time predicting the future.
“They don’t know what the weather is going to bring,” he said, noting weather affects crop production, which affects milk production, which affects milk prices.
Gerry Bell, 65, has a farm in Cortlandville with 100 cows, 60 of which are dairy cows. He said regardless of the recent surge in milk prices, he plans to sell his cows in the fall.
“It’s hard to keep farming if you ain’t making any money,” he said. “We’ve been existing by paying our bills the last three or four years by taking out of our savings, which doesn’t make sense.”
According to the Division of Milk Control and Dairy Services, the number of farms in Cortland County dropped from 157 to 143 from 2003 to 2006; however, the amount of milk marketed increased from 22.3 million pounds to 22.8 million pounds, with the amount of milk marketed per farm increasing from 142,000 pounds to 159,000 pounds.
Debbie Greene said she hopes milk production stays strong in Cortland. When she went down to North Carolina a few years ago to visit her family, milk was already $4 a gallon.
“It’s more expensive because they don’t have dairy farms down there,” she said. “It’s got to be shipped to places so that adds to it.”


Today’s prices for a gallon of whole milk

Wilson Farms
$2.69 special today,
normally $3.19
$2.99 with shopper’s card, between $4.18 and $4.38 otherwise
Red Apple Kwik Fill
Price Chopper
$3.32 to $3.89, depending on the milk brand
Eckerd Pharmacy
Byrne Dairy
Daily Grind
Bill Bros. Dairy
Kinney Drugs



Dryden fundraiser benefits Manos family

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — Friends, family members and sympathetic neighbors gathered Saturday afternoon to help show their support and raise money for the family of a little girl who police say was sexually abused and killed by her aunt.
More than 300 people attended the event at the VFW on Route 13, organized to raise money for the family of 2-year-old Grace Elaine Manos. Many wore white T-shirts with “Grace Elaine Manos, Close To my Heart” printed on the left breast.
Erin Williams, of Dryden, a friend of the Manos family, organized the gathering as a way to help the little girl’s parents cover medical and funeral costs that were not covered by the couple’s insurance company.
Williams said this morning that the event raised “a substantial amount” of money toward covering the family’s bills but declined to release an estimated figure. She said around $4,500 had been donated before Saturday.
Event organizers ordered 500 hot dogs and hamburgers, offered numerous prizes for raffle, including kitchen knives, children’s bikes and 20 tons of gravel donated by RSM Gravel in Dryden.
“It’s such a horrible thing to happen to anybody,” Williams said of Grace Manos’ death.
Manos died on May 16, one day after police say her father’s sister, Marie Manos, held her head under water in a bathtub for an unknown amount of time. Officials said Manos, 34, of 758 Ringwood Road, Dryden, was a regular babysitter for the girl and that autopsy results show the girl was sexually abused.
Marie Manos is charged with three counts of second-degree murder and two counts of aggravated sexual abuse, felonies, as well as one count of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor.
She is being held in Tompkins County Jail without bail.
A conference for her case is scheduled in Tompkins County Court on July 13.
The girl’s parents, Michael and Jennifer Manos, of Dryden, were present at Saturday’s event greeting and receiving hugs from supporters. The couple declined to speak with the news media.
Jacob Houghtling, 31, and Jason O’Brien, 34, both of Dryden, were manning the grill behind the VFW for the outdoor event, serving up burgers and hotdogs. Houghtling and O’Brien said they are both friends of the Manos family and were happy with the early turnout of the event.
“I’ve been friends with Mike (Manos) for a long time,” Houghling said. “When something like this happens, you pitch in.”
Charlie and Andrea Kehn, a young couple from Cortland, came to the event with their two young daughters, Jaida, 3, and Azalia, 9 months.
While Jaida and Azalia played together in the grass, Charlie, 25, and Andrea, 23, said they do not know the Manos family but that they chose to come and show their support anyway.
“Our hearts go out to the family,” Charlie Kehn said. “I have two daughters and I couldn’t fathom something like this happening.”
“We want to let them know that we support them,” Andrea Kehn added. “You don’t have to know them to support them.”


Youths gear up for the 54th annual Junior Fair 

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — Although Tuesday marks the first official day of the Cortland County Junior Fair, organizers and young participants were steeped in preparation Saturday as the barns began to fill with animals.
The 54th annual junior fair runs from Tuesday through Saturday at the fairgrounds off Homer Avenue just north of the city.
Brandi Richards, 13, and Jessica Currie, 12, both of Tully were outside the cow barns soaping and rinsing Holsteins on Saturday to get ready for this morning’s first show.
“It’s like a mohawk. It goes across its back,” Currie said, explaining that her cow will be judged on its “top line,” as well as several other categories.
“I’m showing sheep and Jerseys (cows), too,” she added.
Syd McEvoy, the executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County, said Saturday was the first day the cows were brought into the barn but organizers have been cleaning and setting up for about a week.
He said the children who plan to present their cows during a Holstein show today were spending Saturday washing and clipping the animals as well as setting up bedding.
McEvoy said the children and the animals will both be judged during the contest — the handlers for their presentation and showmanship and the cows for their muscle and bone structure.
“There should be 70 by the end of the week,” he said when asked how many cows he expected to be in the barn. The Holstein show is today.
McEvoy said the other animals that will be brought to the fair on Tuesday include pigs, sheep, ducks and rabbits, among others.
Across the fairgrounds in the 4H pole barn, Craig Todd, of Locke, was setting up pens and a show ring for goats.
Todd said this year the fair will show meat goats for the first time on Wednesday as well as host its first livestock auction on Friday.
“There will be a steer, four sheep, five goats and some turkeys,” Todd said, listing some of the animals that will be up for auction.
He said there will also be an array of different non-livestock items up for bid.
“Everything from hats and T-shirts to tool kits and bags of feed,” he said of the items donated from area businesses.
In addition to the auction and the numerous livestock shows scheduled to take place during the week, the fair will also host an array of other events during its five days and offer midway rides.
On Tuesday evening there will be a pedal tractor pull contest, the Junior Fair Queen pageant and an arm wrestling contest.
On Wednesday a bake sale and youth band are scheduled and Friday there is an antique tractor pull and chicken barbecue.
The fair will close Saturday with an 11 p.m. fireworks show.