WILSONS—Virginia’s dairy farms continue to struggle, but state officials learned recently how one dairy is changing to survive.
In 2017 there were nearly 650 Grade-A dairy farms in the state, but now there are fewer than 490. Coley Jones Drinkwater said her family’s farm is similar in size to the ones going out of business. She explained to Gov. Ralph Northam and Virginia agriculture and forestry representatives how her family’s Richlands Dairy Farm in Dinwiddie County is adapting.
“You either have to grow bigger, or diversify in some way to stay alive,” Drinkwater shared on May 20 during a farm tour to mark the start of Virginia Agriculture Week.
Drinkwater said her family is close, and they want to stay that way. “We really have a passion for dairy farming, and to continue to farm together and stay together we had to create a new revenue stream.” Their solution: a retail creamery.
“I’ve been wanting to add an on-farm creamery, where we can sell our own bottled milk and ice cream for years. It took my family a while to come around,” Drinkwater said with a chuckle. “We’re truly betting the farm on this. We’ve put up our land, cows, buildings, equipment, everything, in the hopes that the creamery will help save the farm. This creamery is either going to make or break us.”
Dairy prices have declined three different times since 2006, but this is the longest downturn farmers have faced since then, explained Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist with Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. He noted that dairy farmers were hopeful milk prices would increase, but trade issues with Canada, China and Mexico stalled any price resurgence.
“Experts are saying dairy prices may increase later this year, but for many dairy farms, that’s too late,” Banks said. “I think it’s great that there are some operations, like Richlands Dairy, that are expanding and finding new ways to increase their farming business.”
Richlands Dairy hosts school field trips and includes agritourism opportunities like a pumpkin patch in the fall. The family hopes those ventures, combined with the creamery, will make their farm more profitable. They also enjoy having the public on the farm.
“We try to bring people to the farm and show them what we do and explain why we do it, and show them how well cared-for our cows truly are,” Drinkwater explained. “With the creamery, now people who come to the farm can see the cows and how their milk is then turned into delicious ice cream.”
Drinkwater said the family hopes to start bottling milk and making ice cream in June, with a grand opening later this summer. For more information, visit richlandsdairyfarm.com.
Media: Contact Drinkwater at 804-895-0696 or Banks