Consumer demand for raw milk may not be as large as many have thought, according to a first-of-its-kind state profile of raw milk sales.
The just-released “Rural Vermont’s 2013-2014 Raw Milk Report to the Legislature” says that state dairies selling unpasteurized milk had 1,940 “unique customers.” That amounts to fewer than 1 percent of Vermont’s 324,084 households. If correct, the market for unpasteurized milk directly from the farm is far smaller in the Green Mountain State than the 3 percent or more often claimed by raw milk advocates and even cited by some federal health officials.
Rural Vermont, which advocates for raw milk, says its report to the legislature “is intended to provide a snapshot of the current status of raw milk production and sales and identify what is working and what is not working with the current Raw Milk Law.”
The new producer survey could spur debate about whether the raw milk market in Vermont and elsewhere is this limited, and if so, is it limited by supply or demand?
It follows that, if far fewer people than thought are drinking raw milk, it could be more dangerous than thought. Last year, the federal Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention found that, with 3 percent of the market, raw milk was 150 times more likely to make someone sick than pasteurized milk.
The five-year old Act 62 limits the sale of raw milk products to the farm in Vermont. Retail stores cannot sell it. The report found that 1,767 Vermont residents are purchasing raw cow milk on the farm. The average number of customers for raw cow milk was 33 per farm, with the median being 14 customers.
There are just 173 customers in Vermont for raw goat milk, for an average of 10 per farm and a median of five.
With many raw milk sales limited to the farm and others occurring only in the underground market, precise sales figures are difficult to acquire. Estimates usually come from often-unreliable consumer phone surveys.
The Rural Vermont report is not based on a random survey but a two-year outreach program to obtain data from the state’s raw milk dairy producers. It collected the information at a statewide “Raw Milk Summit” held last October and at regional raw milk meetings.
The project obtained responses from 110 raw milk dairymen and women, including 80 who sold raw milk directly to consumers during the previous year. Together, 76 dairy farms reported selling a total of 53,306.75 gallons of raw milk during the year, for an average of 772 gallons per farm. The median sales amount was 240 gallons per farm.
The average is lifted by a few respondents who sold higher volumes of raw milk, up to 9,000 gallons per farm. Producers of raw cow milk sold more than producers of raw goat milk. The mean for raw cow milk was 432.5 gallons and, for raw goat milk, it was 34 gallons.
Vermont raw milk dairies sold raw cow milk for $4 to $10 per gallon, with the average price being $7 per gallon. Raw goat milk sold for $5 to $15 per gallon, with the average price coming in at $10.
Gross sales for the 76 raw milk dairies that provided data totaled $373,018. The Rural Vermont study stated that the average gross income from raw milk was $5,470. Median gross income was $1,500, with a wide variation that ranged from $10-90,000 per year.
Per-farm sales for raw cow milk dairies averaged $6,718, with a median of $2,250. For raw goat milk dairies, the average was $1,066 and the median $503. The 54 farms that responded said from 0.01 to 100 percent of their sales were dependent upon raw dairy products.
Average sales from raw dairy totaled 20.9 percent, with the median coming in at 5 percent.
Rural Vermont reported that these 76 dairies had a total herd of 1,067 cows and goats. A total of 982 cows were being milked at the raw milk dairies, with an average of 17 cows per farm. The median was 3.5 cows.
Goat dairies reported a total herd of 87 animals, with both the average and the median being four goats.
Raw milk dairies are somewhat split about their approach to carrying liability insurance. Rural Vermont found that 44.7 percent of the dairies were insured, but a majority, 55.3 percent, was not. The report notes that only one carrier in Vermont is currently issuing insurance policies to raw milk farmers.
Also, 72.4 percent did not ship any milk product to bulk buyers. The other 28.6 percent did supply other producers and bulk buyers such as cooperatives.
The Vermont House Agriculture Committee is reviewing Senate Bill 70, which passed the upper chamber last year and could become the vehicle for loosening the state’s raw milk regulations.
Raw milk producers in the state told Rural Vermont they want lawmakers to lift the lid on the two-tier production limits currently imposed by Act 62. They also like changes to existing testing and inspection protocols.© Food Safety News