But many struggling farmers say they need more. The Northeast Organic Producers Alliance, for instance, is petitioning for a 60 cent a gallon hike. The Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance recently sent a letter to processors seeking an increase that would add 22 cents to a half gallon for consumers
That might be a tough sell.
There are questions over just how much consumers — even those who will pay a premium to support sustainable family farms — will pay for a half gallon of milk. Western alliance president Tony T. Azevedo said he'd like to induce retailers to kick more of their percentage back to the farmers, though he acknowledges that's "a pretty daunting task."
Some farm advocates say additional price pressure comes from industrial-style organic farming operations with 1,000 or more milking cows that are producing more milk for "private label" store brands sold in supermarkets and box stores. The large-scale operations, some with their own processing plants, can produce the milk less expensively than traditional farms and put pressure on all producers to keep prices low.
The growth of these industrial-style operations has angered small-farm advocates who say they violate the spirit of organic, sustainably produced food.
"Forget about the letter of the law for a second, these do not comport with the values that the consumers think they're supporting when they're buying organic milk," said Mark Kastel of the Wisconsin-based farm-policy group The Cornucopia Institute.
Though no one knows when supply will catch up with demand, many expect it to at least ease in a couple of months with the production boost that comes each spring when the fields are in bloom and cows can graze. Hannaford is telling customers to expect more consistent inventory levels in April.
Maltby is more pessimistic.
"Perhaps when the cows go out to pasture in the spring, there might be an increase in production, but we don't anticipate that happening dramatically," Maltby said. "Nothing will really change until the price that the farmer gets paid starts to meet their cost of production."
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