Dairy farmers in Lancaster and Lebanon County losing milk contracts

MILLCREEK TOWNSHIP, LEBANON COUNTY, Pa. -- Dairy farmers in Lancaster and Lebanon counties may be without a job in the coming months.

Kirby & Sheryl Horst, who own Lynncrest Holsteins, say that they will no longer be able to sell their milk to Dean Foods after May 31st,  just under 90 days before they are left to find another form of income.

"This is just kind of out of no where, we had no idea that this was coming, it was a total shocker," said Kirby & Sheryl Horst. "When we got that notice we were afraid to pick it up because we were sure that that’s what it was because we know other people were getting these letters and I knew what it was," added Kirby Horst.

Last week, the Horst family received a certified letter in the mail from Dean Foods, a Texas-based company that they sell their milk to.

They are one of 11 farms in the Lancaster-Lebanon County area impacted by the cut of the 42 dairy farms in total impacted in Pennsylvania.

Jayne Sebright, executive director for the Center for Dairy Excellence says there are a few issues that are at play.

"Major retailers are going to begin processing their own milk at destinations outside of Pennsylvania so they no longer need to have companies like dean’s supply that milk to them," said Jayne Sebright.

And for people like the Horst’s, the reality of the situation is hitting them hard.

“This is my life, I mean I was born and raised on this farm. We’ve been dairying for 37 years together, we have a son that’s getting married in a few weeks and has aspirations of taking over," added Kirby & Sheryl Horst

We reached out to Dean Foods for comment and they replied with the following statement:

"Unfortunately, Dean Foods has made the difficult decision to end milk procurement contracts with a number of farmers in about 90 days. We regret this decision had to be made. These contracts will end on May 31, 2018. Affected farms were notified the week of Feb. 26. Our decision was an incredibly difficult one and a step that we worked very hard to avoid. A little over 100 farmers were notified. The farms affected are located in Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina. Our field representatives are serving as a conduit of additional resources to dairy farms during these challenging times. Additionally, we will provide farmers with resources to help them connect with counselors if needed. It's important to note we still buy milk that comes from approximately 12,000 farms across the country, including Pennsylvania. Many factors, including a surplus of raw milk at a time when the public already is consuming less fluid milk and companies assertively entering or expanding their presence in the milk processing business, have exacerbated an already tenuous situation in a highly competitive market. These factors have pushed Dean Foods to make this tough decision. The fluid milk market has always been competitive, but we’re in unprecedented times. These things coming together have put all of us in the situation we find ourselves today." - Dean Foods

“These are generational businesses and in Pennsylvania our farms our dairy farms are family owned businesses, they’ve been in their families for many generations and this is their whole lives work," added Sebright.

“To me the cows all have personalities, I mean they are like my kids, basically, I mean this is just going to be so difficult to even think of the possibility that they’re going to have to leave, we are not sure how I’m going to handle that yet.”

Dairy farmers are encouraged to contact the Center for Dairy excellence for support and resources at: 717-346-0849 or visit: centerfordairyexcellence.org