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Central Pa. dairy farmers rally together to save an industry in crisis

NORTH CORNWALL TOWNSHIP, LEBANON COUNTY, Pa. — a group of Lebanon and Lancaster County dairy farmers are rallying together to save their family businesses.

The company they sell their milk to, Dean Foods’ Swiss Premium, gave 26 dairy producers 90 days notice that it’s ending its contract, leaving farmers to wonder what happens next.

The group of dairy farmers which met at the Lebanon Valley Exposition Center are neither gathering to protest, nor are they angry with Dean Foods.

There are two things some central Pennsylvania farmers are asking for though. One is for more time, the other is for people to drink more milk.

The business of producing milk isn’t the only thing the group of farmers has in common that brings them together.

Dairy farmer Alisha Risser said “Dean Foods has given an ending deadline of May 31st at a time that is one of the hardest the dairy industry has ever faced, we were told it was not meant to be personal that it was a business decision.”

Dean Foods cited not only a drop in demand for milk from consumers, but major retailers who are looking to buy the product elsewhere as a reason to bringing sales to an end.

Dairy farmer Alan Graves said “as we make projections in our business, we do not make them for 90 days, we look forward for years.”

Dairy farmer Rick Stehr said “my passion, and my business in my life is the family farm and the values that you are taught and let me say this again to the young folk, it is worth fighting for.”

The group of farmers plans to fight back with a letter writing campaign to ask Dean Foods to give them more time, at least until the end of the year to figure out what’s next for them.

“They have spent their lives trying to improve their cows, improve the product that they produce, and the thought of that having that taken away in 90 days, is almost unjust,” Graves said.

Rally moderator Randy Ebersole said “send an email, you can send a letter through snail mail, or you can phone Dean Foods. And we’re hoping the message comes through loud and clear.”

It’s not the only message some want to send.

Rep. Frank Ryan (R-Lebanon County) said “this has got a big spillover effect, as well as the character of our community, you know the dairy farmers worked for us for decades, centuries, millennium, maybe it’s about time we did the same thing for us [them] that’s why we need to start drinking more milk.”

If dairy farmers don’t get an extension through December 31st, some may have to plant crops or risk not only losing their family business, but their homes as well.