Several times in the last month our St. Albans co-op had to dump milk.
It was the first time they had to dump milk in his 30 years at the plant, said Tom Gates, St. Albans cooperative relations manager in Vermont, where I sell my northern New York state milk. He never bothered to post a letter to producers to quash the rumours that they were dumping milk.
The milk they were dumping was skim milk, “with 95 per cent of its value removed,” he said.
With St. Albans being one of many businesses affected by the draconian police roadblocks in the area all through June, due to the escaped prisoners, having truckers sitting idling, with a near-worthless product in the tanker having to be trucked further and further away, didn’t pay.
Far easier and more economical to head to a local manure pit.
Plus there is a heck of a lot of milk in the northeast, and sometimes with surpluses you have to unload things and cut your losses. Such is life.
On the plus side of such surpluses, produced to sell over and above domestic requirements, Tom loves the challenge, and is a master at getting higher-valued product sold. Milk, liquid milk protein isolates, milk with some handfuls of sugar in it making it “food grade” and off the import charts, all heading north of the border.
There is no secret to any of this. Monthly newsletters let us know when a six-month contract is signed with Winchester. Skotidakis, an Eastern Ontario dairy processor, is listed on the screen at public meetings as “a premium buyer” and Agropur does what it does with such flair. Gleaming tankers are driven by uniformed drivers.
Not one of St. Alban’s producers, all of us near the border and getting higher prices than the average co-op, want things to “open up” by lowering Canadian tariffs forced by a TPP deal. We well know the talents of Canadian producers, who without quota costs, will easily fill the markets in their backyards we’re now shipping into.
Tom sat in our Ontario kitchen over five years ago to persuade us to join his co-op, which we did when moving the cows south of the border. There is no drama about the man, no legal challenges concerning two herds merging into one, no policies for helping a young person get started, no organizing monopoly transportation, having socialist policy sessions, or fretting about those moralists thinking differently over in the organic sector.
He simply sells milk. It keeps him pretty busy.
There is also the Ben & Jerry’s outlet in the same town. Chobani, allowed to build here, is across the state. The contribution of products to Cooperatives Working Together are exported around the world.
There are others in the co-op, who manage the huge store down at the plant, where farmers can buy fertilizer, seed and many other items at lower-pooled prices and pay it off via milk cheque deductions by October since banks here don’t offer huge lines of credit.
Everything is business. Honest, normal business. Which, since 1919 when St. Alban’s began, sometimes is great, sometimes sucks, because the world around one isn’t fair and predictable, and sometimes it’s middling along.
I’ve never seen Tom mock anybody or kick somebody when he was down. Seven producers downstate had gambled some years ago to be on their own, rather than under the umbrella of a co-op, and this spring had to scramble to find a new buyer, with no area co-ops taking on new producers. Tom never Twittered how stupid they were.
These producers, fortunately and maybe lesson learned, got sorted out with a market. Life is long and Tom well knows that being the taunting bully on Twitter will possibly have long-term repercussions.
Leaders need to be credible and just do their jobs.
No one gains markets being a word twister with talent or as Mike Duffy’s lawyer was described: as one “nimble enough to sew the arse on a cat.”
Simply sell milk, which includes skim.
We get through this uncertain future just fine with a hard worker like Tom Gate