Mapleline Farm, CISA: Massachusetts dairy farms depend on local consumers, creativity and enterprise
MassLive. May 22, 2014. By Jim Kinney.
Hadley- The 150 Jersey cows currently in production at Mapleline Farms in Hadley will each give about 65 pounds, or 7 1/2 gallons, of rich thick milk a day, every day, and getting that milk to market at the highest price possible is the key to this family farm’s survival and the survival of Massachusetts 147 dairy farms.
Mapleline Farms, well known for distributing its own farm-processed milk locally, hosted wholesale buyers from groceries, restaurants and colleges Thursday in an event sponsored by CISA, Community Involved Sustaining Agriculture.
“We just couldn’t afford to produce something of value and have someone else take a big chunk of that revenue,” said Mapleline owner John Kokoski. “We had a market right here under our feet. There are a lot of people who care where their food comes. There are people here who want to from and they are willing to pay a premium. That’s our market.”
Kokoski said Mapleline milk brings in 40 to 50 percent more than the $24-or-so per hundred pounds dairy farmers get on the wholesale market. But that’s before the cost of processing, bottling, shipping and marketing. Once those costs are taken into account the premium falls to about 20 to 30 percent.
His great grandfather started farming here in 1902. Over the years the moved from tobacco and vegetables to dairy cattle and then to fawn-colored Jersey cattle known for their creamy high-fat milk and big brown eyes.
Massachusetts has 147 dairy farms, 41 percent of them are in Hampshire, Hampden and Franklin counties, CISA said Thursday. Those farms collectively preserve 18 percent of the Pioneer Valley’s agricultural land. An average farm with 100 cows needs 200 acres of crop land.
Dairy farms make up just 3 percent of the Valley’s farms, but milk accounts for 14 percent of the value of farm products here. Eighteen percent of the milk consumed in Massachusetts comes from Massachusetts farms.
Darryl and Lucinda Williams of Luther Belden Farm in nearby Hatfield are members of the Agri-Mark cooperative and sell their milk into that retail stream. Darryl said milk prices, that $24 per hundred pounds, are good now after a few years of being depressed. Large dairy exports help, he said.
“But costs are always high,” he said. “Farmers have to be creative. Some sell local beef, like we do, or have farm stands. Some bottle their own milk like John does here. You have to be creative and everyone is looking for that niche.”
Dairy farmers can survive with as few as one or two cattle if they diversify. Some specialize in artisan cheese or yogurt, he said.
Lucinda Williams pointed out that not every farm can exploit the same niche, the same way not every brewer can be a microbrewery or every restaurant sell only local foods. Someone has to serve the mass market.
“For us, local means in New England,” she said. “A lot of people don’t realize that.”
And whatever those farmers are doing, it must be working. Not a single Massachusetts dairy farmer went out of business in 2013 after years of heavy attrition, Darryl Williams said. In fact several are new.
Tom Klekotka is the dairy buyer at River Valley Market, a grocery cooperative store on King Street in Northampton. He came out to the Mapleline Farm Tour Thursday so he has answers for inquisitive customers.
“Our customers care about how the cattle are treated. What are they fed? Do they go outside?,” he said.
It’s mostly corn and hay silage, said Zach Woodis who handles the herd at Mapleline. They also get a smattering of grains trucked in from other farms. That mix also gives them plenty of vitamins and minerals.
“We feed them what it takes to keep these ladies percolating along and producing plenty of good milk,” Kokoski said. “Happy girls produce more milk.”
He’s trying to feed GMO free, but it is hard to buy GMO-free corn seed in sufficient quantities to keep the cattle feed.
All that TLC pays off, said Paul Kokoski, John’s son who runs the creamery. Mapleline has had its heavy cream tested at 45 percent butterfat compared with 36 to 38 percent for most heavy creams.
John Kokoski said restaurants love that heavy cream for icings, deserts and sauces.
Paul and his team process about 6,000 gallons of milk a week into whole, the most popular, skim , 2 percent and 1 percent. They also make half-and-half for coffee, the heavy cream and flavored milks in chocolate, strawberry and orange cream. in winter, they make eggnog.
Rao’s Coffee Roasting Co. has also brought back home delivery of Mapleline milk, said Rao’s vice president Gail M. Flood. With 300 customers, Flood said there is a markeet for delivered milk, cheese and other products.
“What we’d like to develop it into is develop that into a local-sourced specialty grocery store on wheels,” Flood said.
The farm is also growing. Plans call for more loading dock space, more tanks in the creamery and more solar power arrays for the barns.