Supermarket shelves that house organic milk might seem a little bare this spring.
Local markets report supply is down, and experts say increased demand and less-than-ideal weather conditions are contributing factors.
“Over the past two or three years there has usually been a slight [organic milk] surplus, so this is the first time we’ve seen this in two or three years,” said Ed Maltby, executive director of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance.
Signs have sporadically been placed in the organic milk section at Hannaford supermarkets this spring, informing customers that supplies are limited.
“Some brands might be short, but generally, Nature’s Place [brand] is holding up,” said spokesman Mike Norton. “What we’re hearing is [supply] will gradually get better as we get deeper into the spring.”
Price Chopper Supermarkets’ spokeswoman Mona Golub said shoppers will find organic milk on the grocery chain’s shelves.
“It hasn’t been overabundant, but we haven’t been out of stock,” she said.
An employee at Trader Joe’s in Albany said the store has had no trouble keeping organic milk in stock.
Organic milk is typically in high supply in spring, when grass becomes abundant and dairy cows are let out to graze. This year, the grass is slow to grow and farmers are hesitant to let their herds wander while the ground is still muddy, fearing they will ruin the pasture, said Maltby.
Organic feed is in high demand, as many farmers are still relying on it to sustain their livestock, and the cost has been increasing.
“The price organic farmers have been getting for their milk has not kept up with the increased cost of feed, so many farmers have cut back from the number of cows they had before and the amount of purchased feed they are feeding,” Maltby said.
The better a cow’s diet, the more milk it will produce, noted Steve Ammerman, spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau.
Specialized products like organic milk often are shipped to stores from a distance, but poor pasture conditions in the West, caused by drought, and the lingering effects of the Midwest’s brutal winter have also lessened milk production in those regions, noted Norton.
Demand for organic dairy products rose about 7 percent last year, but dairy farmers aren’t rushing to switch to organic production, Maltby said.
“Because of the higher cost of feed and the good price that non-organic farmers are getting for their milk, we haven’t seen a lot of farms transition to organic, and as it takes up to three years to transition, we don’t really expect more volume being available,” he explained.
Non-organic feed prices have been dropping, noted Ammerman.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic production survey, in 2011, New York had 235 organic dairy farms, with sales just over $60 million. The state is ranked third in the nation for highest number of certified organic dairy farms, according to the survey.