By Susan Harlow, editor
Agri-Mark Inc. dairy cooperative, New England’s largest dairy cooperative, will not take milk from cows treated with r-BST into its New England plants after Aug. 1. The cooperative has been pressured for rBST-free milk by its wholesale customers for bulk cheese, butter and nonfat milk powder.
Agri-Mark’s board of directors voted Jan. 15 for the ban. Spokesman Doug DiMento said the decision was difficult for the board. “This will be one of worst years on record for milk prices, yet here’s an approved technology that makes farmers money and we’re asking them not to use it,” DiMento said.
Agri-Mark made the decision in order to keep its customers. “We have to meet the needs of the marketplace, protect our markets and grow future markets, and we have to take action now,” DiMento said.
“It’s affected all of our plants in New England and because of that, it will also affect milk from outside handlers,” he said. Agri-Mark’s West Springfield, Mass., plant, which makes butter and powder, is the only balancing plant in the region.
Less than 10% of Agri-Mark’s producers are using rBST, DiMento estimated. Producers who want to keep using the growth hormone will have to pay to have their milk hauled to Agri-Mark’s plant in Chateaugay, N.Y. For any producers outside that area, hauling costs will be very burdensome, especially given today’s milk price climate, DiMento said.
The cooperative will try to maintain the 20-cent-per-cwt. premium it now pays for rBST-free milk. “Others pay higher premiums but we pay our premium to all rBST-free producers, even if they ship to a BST plant,” DiMento said.
It’s not clear yet if Agri-Mark will realize any cost savings from no longer having to segregate milk, DiMento said.