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Family-owned dairy farms struggling to survive

Posted: 5:43 AM, Aug 28, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-28 09:40:37-04

It seems like yesterday America was guzzling about 247 pounds of milk per capita every year.

But consumption has dropped to about 154 pounds per capita in 2016, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. That drop is impacting dairy farms across the nation, including those in South Texas.

Not too long ago, there were 121 dairy farms here in South Texas. Now, there is one.

Family-owned dairy farms across the country, like the Knolle Dairy Farm, are struggling to survive as milk prices have fallen in the last few years due to an abundance of supply on the market.

“The pricing is set by the federal milk market administrators. So the government gets involved, and they are trying to ensure people get a minimum price.” said Joe Knolle Jr., president of Knolle Dairy Farms. “The co-ops adhere to that and kind of take all those revenues and kind of spread them out. Pull the cost, pull the expenses, and pull the profits. It just doesn’t really work out better for the smaller producers.”

The dairy industry has been shifting toward larger, corporate farms over the last 15 years.

“Where everything is going right now, the industry trends are towards the factory farms, factory mega farms, where you can put thousands and thousands of heads of cattle underneath one roof, and they never get to see the light of day.” Knolle said. “You get a lot of economies of scale working for you when you do that.”

What can be done to help the local dairy farmers? Some want a quota system to prevent massive corporate farms from producing so much milk it hurts family farms.

“For us, our personal direction is to actually strive to take a fraction of our production, just a small portion of our production, and run it through a value edit processing facility where we can actually take the raw milk from the cows, run it through pasteurizers, run it through packaging machines, and have a basic product we can sell to the public that would be safe,” said Knolle.

Knolle and his wife Christina bought the Knolle Dairy Farm that was established in 1928 in Sandia, 6 years ago from his family.

“We are under the aspirations to try and keep it going for the next generation and the last generation.” Knolle said. “With the farm starting in 1928, our goal is to get to the 100-year mark.”

Knolle said the family-run farm is secure – for now. And they are hoping in the near future to continue selling their product in their own home area.