As a dairy farmer and milk processor, the century old Whittier Farms was unique in Massachusetts. The decision announced by Wayne Whittier that the family-owned corporation would not re-open its processing plant comes as no surprise to the hard pressed Massachusetts dairy farm industry.
A half century ago, there were about 5,000 diary farms in Massachusetts. By 1980, that number had been reduced to 630 and by the year 2000 to 247. Today, it’s Whittier Farms and 188 others.
The year before listeria inside the processing plant killed three men and a still-born baby, the Massachusetts dairy industry was under severe financial pressure. It was so severe that the Massachusetts Legislature put up $3.6 million for emergency relief for dairy farmers and created a special task force to study how to keep the industry from collapse.
The task force recommendations came out last November and are now before the Massachusetts Legislature.
Many of the task force recommendations center on how dairy farmers could put part of their 92,000 acres to work in the alternative and renewable energy fields. Others, however, focus on direct technical and financial assistance.
There was apparently nothing working for Whittier, which blamed the cost of a long “to do” list from state regulators before it could re-open the listeria-contaminated milk processing plant. And instead of getting down to a sharp point on the plant’s problem, Whittier said state regulators left it wide open.
“The final results of the tests from the state — instead of narrowing it down — the area kept getting bigger," Whittier said. "It made it extremely hard for us, because we still don’t have answers."
So, Whittier becomes just another dairy farmer, selling its milk to other processors. Its herd of 350 Registered Holstein probably won’t notice much. And, milk prices will continue to be controlled by the federal government, often meaning dairy farmers won’t be able to cover their costs. This puts the sqeeze on the whole system–including food safety.
Go here for the AP story on Whittier’s decision not to re-open the processing plant.