SALEM, Ohio — “I was beside myself when I got it.”
Paula Snyder remembers the day earlier this year she got the letter from Deans Food Company, notifying her they would no longer take her milk, starting May 31.
Snyder and more than 100 other dairies in Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina, received the letter, dated Feb. 26.
“I could have given up four years ago and chose not to. I thought to myself, ‘I haven’t given up yet, but what am I going to do now?’”
Snyder, who farms in Mercer County, Pennsylvania, lost her husband, Todd, four years ago. She kept milking her mixed herd of 35 head with the help of her two daughters and several neighbors.
After she received the letter, she knew there was nothing she could do except reach out to other markets, so she did.
“Every day, I called places. I got a lot of ‘I’m not sure’, but I just kept fighting.”
“Some people were telling me I should start to get rid of them, but I couldn’t do it,” she said about the cows. “They are part of my family. I guess I was just going to hold on until the very end.”
She finally got in touch with Melissa Anderson, programs and operations manager with the Center for Dairy Excellence.
“If it wasn’t for her and the center, I wouldn’t have gotten where I’m at today,” she said.
Several processors came out and toured the farm and talked with her — it was a long process, she said.
“I just wanted a yes or no.”
Snyder’s first meeting with Schneider’s Dairy was April 28. Connie Oshop, Schneider’s field representative, has helped many of the western Pennsylvania dairies, even the ones that didn’t sign with her company.
Bill Schneider, owner of Schneider’s Dairy, said he’s been focusing on doing what’s right.
“We didn’t need the milk, but I understand what it is like to struggle at times and be close to going out of business,” he said.
In the end, Schneider’s took on four dairies that would add a full tanker every other day to their processing facility. Then they worked out a deal to take on two additional farms, that would top off a milk hauler’s tank.
The same day Dairy Farmers of America called to say they couldn’t help Snyder, Schneider’s Dairy said they could.
“It was months of prayers,” Snyder said. “The good Lord answered the prayer.”
Snyder will begin sending her milk to Schneider’s Dairy June 1, after one more inspection and she signs on the dotted line.
The Center for Dairy Excellence has been working with Snyder and all of the producers and dairy markets to make connections, said Jayne Sebright, executive director.
In western Pennsylvania, there are 16 farms that were dropped. Seven found a market and nine are still looking, Sebright said.
In addition to the six picked up by Schneider’s Dairy, the Farmers Union has added one.
In the eastern part of Pennsylvania, there were 26 dairies let go by Dean Foods. Nineteen found a new market, three are exiting the industry and four are still looking.
Harrisburg Dairy and Progressive Ag Cooperatives both picked up nine and Dairy Farmers of America has added one.
When Schneider was asked if he has had to turn some dairymen away, he said, “Unfortunately, yes, we couldn’t take them all, but we are still working behind the scenes every day to see what we can do.”
In Ohio, Scott Higgins, Ohio Dairy Producers Association and the American Dairy Association Mideast chief executive officer, credits the Dean Foods representatives in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, for helping the nearly 10 farmers find a new home for their milk.
“They found a home for all of the farms, except for two, which were planning to sell out this summer anyway,” Higgins said.
“We continue to keep strong relationships across the dairy industry and that helps — from the farmers to the milk haulers, and processing plants,” Higgins said.
Snyder also touts that connection.
“If it wasn’t for the other farmers around here helping me, I don’t know where I’d be,” Snyder said.
If she didn’t find a new market, she wasn’t going to plant her crops this year. She couldn’t justify spending money on the seed, if the cows weren’t going to be around to eat the harvest, she said.
“‘Stay positive, it will work,’ is what I always tell myself,” she said.
Now she talks with other farmers who send their milk to Dean Foods and they tell her she was lucky she got the one of the first letters, as they fear there will be a second round.