TUNKHANNOCK TWP. — Imagine losing $10,000 or more a month.
It would cause a tight wallet pinch for just about any family, forcing debt payments to be placed on hold and every cent to be stretched as far as possible.
Third-generation dairy farmers Ray and Annette Kuzma, of Tunkhannock Township, find themselves in that exact situation. The couple and their three children make a livelihood producing milk from their herd of 200 Holstein cattle.
“We never go to the casino because we gamble every day of our lives,” Annette said.
The couple share the fate of many small dairy farms across the state and the nation as they struggle to keep their farms afloat as costs to produce raw milk rise.
Ray ships out about 10,000 pounds of raw milk every two days to Readington Farms in New Jersey, one of the closest bottling plants.
“There used to be 40 local places to sell milk,” Ray said.
He receives about $15 per hundredweight, or 100 pounds, of raw milk, a price determined by the Pennsylvania Milk Market Board.
In the Commonwealth, the Pennsylvania Milk Market Board establishes the price of raw milk paid to dairy farmers monthly, said Arden Tewksbury, the manager of Progressive Agriculture, a national group of farmers lobbying for fair marketing of milk.
The 2016 national milk prices are estimated to reach $15.50 per hundredweight, according to Progressive Agriculture. But the national cost of milk production is $23.42 per hundredweight, which creates a $7.92 deficit for every 100 pounds of raw milk.
The payout does not cover the Kuzmas’ farm monthly and household expenses.
“The soap used to wash the equipment is $300 a month,” Ray said. “Our electric bill is $1,100 a month.”
The payout does not even cover the several thousand dollars it costs to feed the herd or family-related expenses.
So what is the family doing to better their situation? They are standing behind Progressive Agriculture’s dairy bill S-1640, also known as the Federal Milk Marketing Improvement Act, which would establish a sustaining price for milk used for manufacturing purposes.
The family and Pro-Ag are asking consumers to contact their state legislators asking them to support the bill.
Ray and Annette remember the region was once well-populated with small, independently-owned dairy farms. But many have since shut down due to low prices for raw milk and heavy competition from large corporate dairy farms.
The family refuses to give up on their farm, though.
“It is all I know,” Ray said.
“Our hearts are in it,” Annette said.