December 12, 2016

How One Dairy Farmer Went Non-GMO

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

In 2010, Kansas dairy farmer Ken McCarty and his family began developing a relationship with Dannon. Today, the McCarty family is Dannon’s largest single supplier of milk and is involved in the company’s direct milk supply program, and the McCartys are among the dairy producers and others helping the yogurt maker to implement aspects of the Dannon Pledge.

“In 2010 through our desire to escape the co-op model we started discussions with Dannon,” he told AgriTalk host Mike Adams. The McCartys hoped to develop a direct supply cost-plus relationship.

“We thought we could eliminate a lot of the volatility that was beginning to seem more frequent in the market and focus on projects we were interested in like those geared to animal welfare, community sustainability and environmental impacts,” he said.  “The next step in that was to move part of their product line to certified non-GMO.”

McCarty and Dannon alike say non-GMO milk is about “providing more choice to the consumer.” Many industry groups including the National Milk Producers Federation and Dairy Management Inc. disagree. They think non-GMO milk is simply a marketing tactic as there is no nutritional difference between conventional and non-GMO milk. McCarty argued that research shows a large portion of the population is seeking access to these type products. “It’s a large and diverse marketplace and there’s room for everyone in it,” he said.

McCartys’ relationship with Dannon is what’s called a cost-plus relationship. That means their milk price is not set by the market. They have a direct price contract with Dannon and while he couldn’t mention specifics of his price or premiums that could exist for non-GMO milk, what he did say is what dairy farmers across the country hope for.  “Our cost of production is covered and we have a guaranteed margin above and beyond that,” McCarty said.  

Access to non-GMO feed is a key point in the discussion of non-GMO milk’s feasibility in the marketplace. Despite only growing a small portion of their feed needs, McCarty said sourcing non-GMO feed is not an issue.

“We grow a small percentage of our feed, so we rely on individuals that we’ve worked with well over a decade now to participate in the program with us,” he said. “They’ve all embraced it and more producers than I can count want to participate with us. The transition was easier than any of us expected.”

The feedback from other dairy farmers has been positive, McCarty said.

“Everyone has the choice to operate their business in a free market society,” he said. “We are just providing consumers a choice they are asking for. The growers that embarked on this journey with us had a choice, we had a choice and consumers have a choice.”

Listen to the full interview on AgriTalk below.