Alison Leary and her father, Tim Leary, coax a cow into a trailer at the family’s Saco farm Thursday morning.

Alison Leary and her father, Tim Leary, coax a cow into a trailer at the family’s Saco farm Thursday morning.

SACO — A few years ago, long-time dairy farmer Tim Leary told the Journal Tribune he was in a “slowmotion” process of closing down dairy operations. This week, the farm, which has gained local fame as the city’s last remaining dairy farm, is closing down commercial milk production for good.

Dairy farming is a tough business, and not only because of the long hours and dedication it takes. There are fluctuations of federally regulated milk prices, the increased cost of feed and insurance, and a decrease of large-animal veterinarians.

Alison Leary coaxes a cow into a trailer at the family’s Saco farm Thursday morning.

Alison Leary coaxes a cow into a trailer at the family’s Saco farm Thursday morning.

The final straw that had Leary liquidating most of his stock this week was the notice that M.A. Haskell & Sons, the company that hauls the milk to Oakhurst Dairy, was likely dropping Leary along with eight other farms in southern Maine and Waldo County, which produce milk for Oakhurst.

“Of all the factors, I didn’t see that coming,” said Leary.

Jesse Haskell, of M.A. Haskell & Sons, said there are a lot of factors as to why he may have to drop the farms from his routes. He said he can’t compete with the pay and benefits other trucking agencies are able to give their staff. The company is based out of Palermo, and it’s difficult to make a profit traveling the distance to pick up milk from small farms.

Haskell said his family has been hauling milk for 65 years and also runs an organic farm, and he knows the struggles farmers have. He said he’s always prided himself in making things work with smaller farmers, and in the past was able to balance out some of the small farms by maintaining routes with both small and large farms. He said he would like to work something out.

“I definitely don’t want to leave these guys hanging,” he said.

Julie-Marie Bickford, executive director of the Maine Dairy Industry Association, said she’s trying to bring everyone to the table to see if a viable solution can be found, such as switching around routes. Maine is a big state, and dairy routes aren’t an easy straight line, she said.

Bickford said the farms have been told they could be dropped off the pickup route at the end of the month, and it’s critical to find a solution as soon as possible. “There’s no shut off valve on a cow,” she said.

Leary had recently been milking 16 cows, a significant decrease from the past. Leary said he’ll keep a few cows to provide milk to his family.

“I like cows, I always have,” he said.

Leary, who has been shifting out of the dairy business to vegetable growing, said his vegetable business has been subsidizing his dairy business.

“It’s doing fantastic,” he said. Among his crops are cabbage, green peppers, cucumbers, squash, corn and pumpkins.

He said he feels fortunate to have something to fall back on, and sees a bright future in the vegetable business.

His daughter, Alison Leary, is planning what her father calls a “boutique farm” in Arundel, selling raw milk and making products such as cheese and ice cream.

Alison Leary, though well aware of the challenges dairy farmers face, is undiscouraged. She has a different business model, which she said will cut out the middle man, and she’s looking forward to making her dream a reality.

“I’ve always figured I’d do whatever it takes to keep farming,” she said.

— Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or [email protected]


Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: