Friday, November 6, 2009

Veal, Milk and Money

These are hard times for NY dairy farmers. Milk prices remain historically low when accounting for inflation. Small, mid-sized and even large dairy farms in NY are taking it on the chin. The fact that many farmers are not able to make it on milk money alone means hundreds will close up and many may need to sell off their herds. This is a sad situation that mimics what has happened in the pork industry as well. Over production of product by very large companies in the mid-west and west has forced many smaller northeast producers to rethink their farm. Do they go "organic"? This requires a lot of red tape and there again, you have huge operations in the west that are certified organic and flood the market with product; plus the economic downturn has put a damper on organic purchasing at the retail level due to its higher price. Some have begun to think about cheese making. Artisan cheese is a growing area of agriculture but it takes many years and equipment to develop a quality product. Others have diversified the farm and become crop farmers.
Another direction is meat. Some dairy farms are now starting to raise animals for meat production. If for beef, this often requires a change from dairy breeds to meat breeds. This is an investment but local meats are demanding high prices these days. Chefs are increasingly looking towards the local sustainable products to differentiate their operation from others. The local hook is not only good for farmers but good marketing as well.
Enter veal. Dairy farmers often sell their male offspring at auction which often ends up as veal. A recent article in the Washington Post explains what some farmers are considering, milk feeding the offspring to raise expensive free ranged veal. To me it makes a lot of sense to sell a product that helps out the struggling dairy farmers and have a product that has more true veal flavor. The product, though a little redder than most veal, has a deeper flavor and the bones make for fantastic stock. I think that even the larger veal distributors, who are also hurting during this tough economic time, are looking to get veal back on the high end table. This might be the way.
Here are a couple articles on the subject I found intrigueing