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Dean Foods bankruptcy doesn’t sour Washington County dairy farmers on the future

Jaxson Kern, 3, counts black and white holsteins at his grandparent’s dairy farm Friday outside of Reno. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

MARIETTA — Tighten the belt and carry on.

That’s the common theme across Washington County as the remaining dairy farmers digest the news of Dean Foods’ bankruptcy declaration this week.

“I don’t personally think that this plant will shut down,” said Theresa Schramm, of Schramm Dairy Farm outside of Reno. “Will it always process and bottle milk? I don’t know, it might just be a collection point, but there’ll always be a market for milk, cheese and other dairy products.”

The Schramm farm has, for many years, sold their cows’ milk to Broughton, a subsidiary of the Dallas-based Dean Foods since 2001.

Dean Foods announced Tuesday it has filed for bankruptcy.

Jersey cows are the only calves Schramm Dairy Farm is keeping right now as the future of local milk production is tenuous for local dairy farmers. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

Local officials at the Broughton site off of Ohio 26 did not return calls for comment Friday about the plans for the Marietta location.

“But somebody is going to still process and stock the milk in our stores and schools,” said Marty Clark, AgriBusiness coordinator at the Washington County Career Center. “There’s a middle ground between closing the farm doors for good and high-production. Yes, Dean’s is looking to sell off — that may or may not work — but the milk price is better now, though still trying to catch up from meager milk prices.”

Clark is making his rounds this time of year, talking with local farmers about their yields and preparing for tax season.

He’s watched many dairy farmers in the last two years sell off their milk cows, switch to beef, diversify their crops or find work off the farm.

“The only full-time farmers I work with are the dairymen, most everyone else has something else to supplement income,” he explained. “But I’m not doom and gloom with this announcement — a year ago, I was discouraged (but) cheese and butter sales have been very good this year.”

Dean Foods, the parent company of Broughton’s on Ohio 26 outside of Marietta, declared bankruptcy Tuesday and the future of the Marietta plant in operation Friday remains uncertain. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

Schramm said while her husband Rick has remained full-time at the farm, she did seek outside employment this year.

“It’s a big change after 36 years, but it was mostly for the insurance,” she said. “But even there I’m always talking about supporting dairy and local farms. I’m thankful to have an employer that gets how passionate I am about it.”

After the tough news this week, reading the essay of one recent visitor to the Schramm operation last month brought a little pep to Schramm’s walk through the barn with her grandson Jaxon Kern Friday.

“When we arrived at the farm, I could see very simple buildings and many pieces of farm equipment,” reads the winning Farm City Day essay printed in this month’s Washington Soil and Water Conservation Corner newsletter. “The buildings were not fancy and a little dusty, but they were all built for the cows.”

The author, Aven Tacy, is a fifth-grade student of Newport Elementary School.

“The workers sacrifice a lot of time to put milk on your table. I learned a lot from them and also from the cows,” concluded Tacy. “These dairy cows sacrifice their whole lives to give you milk and meat. The overall lesson that I learned is that the workers and cows do a lot for us to have milk, and I am very grateful for them.”

The essay holds a special place in Schramm’s heart.

“I think I might frame that,” she smiled. “Times like these, you tighten your belt, you buckle down and try to get through it. But to know someone out there took a little bit of your heart home with them — that they just took a little bit of what they learned, that means a lot.”

Schramm said at the family dairy, which was established in 1898, part of addressing low milk prices this year was getting rid of nonproducing cows.

“We’re milking down about 160 right now, we used to be at 200,” she explained. “And we used to milk three times a day, but we lost a milker and moved down to two times a day.”

She said when prices were low last year, the family also lost a mechanic and a herder.

“But we’ve gotten them back now and have a new girl working with our calves,” she explained. “We’re only keeping the jersey calves right now and getting rid of the black and white holsteins and bulls when they’re ready.”

For now, diversifying the strains of cattle the family milks is keeping the farm operational.

“We’ve added more jerseys over the years and that’s brought up our components that Dairy Farmers of America (a cooperative based out of Kansas) looks for in our milk,” she explained. “They add some protein and butterfat and help the somatics.”

DFA is in current discussions with Dean Foods about a potential buy of the company.

Janelle Patterson can be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

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