My name is Paula Homan, co-founder of Red Barn Family Farms. For the past twelve years, our small Red Barn team has worked tirelessly to advocate for small-scale dairy farms and humane animal care. When the Covid pandemic brought restaurant and foodservice business to a grinding halt, abject panic set in. How would our business survive? And what about the livelihood of the small family farms that we represent? The bills still needed to be paid. And cows on our Red Barn farms needed to be milked, twice a day, just like always. Trouble was, we weren’t sure there would be anywhere to go with the milk.
The market was literally flooded with excess milk to the point where some farms around the country were asked to cut production and even dump milk into their manure pits. The result was inevitable. Commodity milk prices plummeted to near record lows of $12 per hundred pounds of milk, well below what any farm needs to stay in business. Typically, rock bottom commodity milk prices aren’t a big concern for our Red Barn farmers. They earn our steady, domestic fair trade pay of approximately $21 per hundred pounds of milk regardless of what the commodity market is doing. That is, if their milk is being handcrafted into Red Barn cheese. But without customers, making cheese isn’t necessary. The alternative was to sell Red Barn milk on the commodity market, but we worried just how long our milk would be accepted there.
As I write this blog, cheese sales are slowly rebounding and, for a number of complex reasons, commodity milk prices have soared to $21 per hundred pounds of milk. From the outside, it appears things are looking up for the dairy industry. But history tells us that high commodity milk prices don’t last. They tend to encourage farms to expand and produce more, which, in time, leads to overproduction. And the cycle continues, as overproduction leads to lower milk prices and the end of more small family farms. In 2019 alone, Wisconsin lost nearly 800 dairy farms.
The year 2020 has certainly made us even more grateful for those who have supported Red Barn’s domestic fair trade model over the years. It’s also made us more committed than ever to preserve the good in the world. Our small family farms excel at quality milk, humane animal care, positive contributions to rural communities and care for the environment.
Our fair trade model will continue to:
Reward excellence over efficiency by providing pay incentives to our farms for achieving exceptional milk quality and humane animal care.
Provide steady, sustainable pay to our farmers to keep their way of farming a sustainable business model.