Small dairy farmers in Sullivan County, like dairy farmers across the country, are searching for ways to survive. With milk prices fluctuating wildly from year to year, and the swings driving many small dairies out of business, it’s easy to imagine the remaining dairy farms in Sullivan County will be gone in a couple of years.
Against that backdrop, about a dozen dairy farmers, and other types of farmers, met at Apple Pond Farm on December 31 to listen to a presentation from a farmer and inventor from Maryland, Frank Kipe, who builds and installs micro dairy systems around the country and overseas.
Kipe explained that his initial plan was to own two jersey cows and produce and sell “the most expensive ice cream in the country.” But the cost of the necessary equipment would have run about $250,000, which proved to be too steep a barrier.
So Kipe set about designing and manufacturing micro-scale dairy equipment, which he has installed on about 100 farms in the last four years.
With an easy smile and a smooth delivery, Kipe pitched his products for nearly two hours. “We want to lower the cost of success and the cost of failure,” he said, “We’ve got people making a good living on 10 goats.”
The heart of his pitch was this: “We have a complete system, which is our 22-gallon pasteurizer, with the chiller so that you can use it as a bulk tank. You can also use it to cool milk, after you’ve pasteurized; it works as a cheese vat, a yogurt vat. It includes the bottle filler and all the legal thermometers that you need, as well as the sanitary milk pump, and the complete system is $12,900.”
One of Kipe’s main points was that micro dairies need to be market driven, that is, to provide customers with what they want, and producers need to spend a good amount of time marketing their products to stores or in farm markets or wherever.
That might present a high hurdle for some local farmers. Stefan Geiger, a dairy farmer from Jeffersonville, said the production would probably be easy to handle, but the marketing might present a challenge. Kipe advised that picking a product that you enjoy will make it easier to market.
Evelyn Weissman said that the risk to get a microcreamery started might be too great. If the venture failed, she said, she might lose her farm in Callicoon Center.
Mary Tonjes, who has been making cheese on her farm for several years, said if farmers are considering entering the artisan cheese, yogurt and other dairy products market, now is the time to do so, because demand from the public is very high.
Asked if she had it to do over again, would she make the same decision to go into cheese making, Tonjes said, “Yes, because I can make a living at it.”
The micro-dairy movement is a trend that is growing across the state. According to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, the number of small dairy operations in the state has jumped about 100% in the past two years with the total at about 80.
Go to www.microdairydesigns.com  for more information.