November 28, 2021

An upward churn

Trinity Valley talking growth

Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Branden Brown, co-owner of Trinity Valley Dairy in East Homer, moves products out of a cooler on Tuesday.

HOMER — Branden Brown was preparing Tuesday to make an emergency delivery to a coffee shop in Ithaca that had run out of dairy products. Brown attributed the depletion of products to the threat of recent snow storms. “People think they’ll be stranded,” he said.

But Brown was prepared to help. It’s part of the business he’s in, making and distributing an assortment of dairy products.

Four years ago, Trinity Valley Dairy in Homer, which Brown and his wife Rebekah own, started selling around 300 gallons of milk a week at retail, rather wholesale to a co-op. However, in the past four years the business has grown to pumping out nearly 3,000 gallons of milk weekly.

The business is partnered with Sunset Young Farm and owners Ken and Sue Poole.

Kathy Young of Trinity Valley Dairy puts a label on cheese curd containers Tuesday at the company’s facility in East Homer.

It’s all in an effort to keep up with the continued growth the company has seen since opening in January 2014. Now, 16 part-time employees work at Trinity Valley Dairy and three workers staff the farm. It was good timing.

Since they opened, milk prices have taken a turn for the worse and that’s an understatement, said Betsy Hicks, a dairy specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County. Four years ago, milk prices were around $24-per-hundred-weight.

The average cost to make a hundred weight, or 100 pounds, of milk is $17 to $18, Hicks said. Things started to change in 2015. “High prices didn’t stay,” Hicks said.

Growing and diversifying Brown said Tuesday the company has grown this year from supplying local businesses like Bill Brothers Dairy & Farm Market, CP Cash and Carry and Anderson’s Farm Market, to adding businesses like P&C and Wegmans supermarkets — around 30 Wegmans’ stores, to be exact. “It’s great to get into those 30 stores,” Brown said. Since starting, the business has added a number of goods including:

• Lowfat milk.
• Skim milk.
• 2 percent milk.
• Chocolate milk.
• Half and half.
• Heavy cream.
• Cheddar cheese curds.

Those products have even made their way to distributors in New York City, Brown said.

Farmers don’t set price

In 2015, the price of milk dropped by nearly $7 to around $17-per-hundred-weight. “It was not terrible,” Hicks said. “It was right around the cost of production.”

But things kept getting worse. A year later the price of milk dropped to $16.50. By 2017, milk saw a small recovery to about $17.50 per hundredweight, Hicks said. “But not enough.”

Farmers don’t get to pick the price for the milk they sell; it’s set by a number of regional agencies. Empire Farm and Dairy reported that milk prices for 2018 are predicted to be down from 2017 by around $1.55-per-hundred- weight. That would bring another year of low milk prices.

Hicks said predictions on the price of milk for 2018 is around $16. And while Hicks is not a dairy economist, she said the milk market is a cycle of things being good every three to four years. If that’s the case, 2017 would have been the high.

It’s not just because of the base price for milk. Hicks said many premiums that farmers once got with their base pay are gone. Premiums included a production premium and a volume premium. Those premiums would add more money to a farmer’s milk check based on a number of things from the quality of milk to the amount filling a milk-tanker, Hicks said.

Direct sellers get better prices

However, those milk prices don’t have a big affect on Trinity Valley’s business, Brown said. The business supplies its milk and products for direct sales.

Around 60 percent of the milk from the farm is sold at around $22-per-hundredweight, Brown said. “It’s a lot higher than we’d get on a co-op,” he said.

While a larger portion of the business receives higher prices for the milk, Brown said that 40 percent of the farm is still facing prices through a co-op.

The farmers milk 120 cows to produce enough milk to create all of Trinity Valley’s products, Brown said.

Looking toward the future and continued growth of the company, Brown said the business plans to work on creating its own line of ice cream. And this spring new flavors of cheese curds will be in the works, like garlic and horseradish, he said: “I’m still playing with different spices.”

Brown hopes consider building a new milking station. Whether it’s all robotics or just an upgraded milking parlor he isn’t sure yet.

He also doesn’t have a timeline. “It could be five years away,” Brown said. “We’ve got to do our homework first.”