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Arkansas Dairy Farmers Left with Limited Options Moving Forward

CONWAY, AR - The game of Monopoly is playing out in real life according to some Arkansas farmers and they're trying to land on just the right spot moving forward.
CONWAY, AR - The game of Monopoly is playing out in real life according to some Arkansas farmers and they're trying to land on just the right spot moving forward.

The next roll of the dice could go either way for many dairy farmers this week. The Arkansas Dairy Cooperative Association (ADCA) will vote to dissolve itself Thursday (6/23) leaving only one milk buyer left in the state.

For Frederic Simon, part owner of Simon Brothers Dairy Farm near Conway, how they get their milk and who they work with is a way of life, just like farming.

For all 20 years Simon Brothers has been in business, they've used the ADCA. The ADCA is like a partnership that helps transport and sell milk for dairy farmers.

The union between the two is a personal thing for many Arkansas farmers. They know the other farmers that make up the board, trust their work and are loyal to the Cooperative.

That may soon change though, as the ADCA will likely close its doors.

"It feels like we've got a death in the family," Frederic remarked. "[It's the] Only Co-op that we've ever shipped milk with."

About the time the ADCA opened its doors 23 years ago, there were about 1,200 dairy farmers in the state. Now there's just under 80.

That combined with rising cost of fuel prices to get milk where it has to go has led to the demise.

"If you want to pick out one single factor," Frederic added. "[Transportation cost] is THE factor."

Now, he along with about 30 other dairy farmers may soon have to side with the competitor they say forced this hand.

Frederic says the only other Cooperative in the state, the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), has contracted out with local plants.

According to the DFA, its members have invested in the Hiland dairy plants in Little Rock, Fayetteville and Fort Smith, Arkansas and DFA member milk is supplied to these plants.

The ADCA says those investments by the DFA have closed the doors of those plants to dairy farmers with the Arkansas Cooperative.

"We're 30 miles from the closest plant," Frederic explained. "My milk is going to Kosciusko, Mississippi."

That's almost 300 miles away. With the rising cots of fuel, he says it's just not reasonable to have to make that work.

Frederic said, "[DFA is] eliminating the marketplace for other cooperatives in the area."

The DFA says there are currently 54 member farms already in the state.

"For [current] members of the Arkansas Dairy Cooperative Association, membership in DFA is certainly an obvious option - especially for those operating dairies near these plants," a representative with DFA wrote in an email to KARK.

Many farmers worry the DFA is like a dominant player in the game of Monopoly. Without any competition they say the DFA could do with the prices what they will, especially with the possibility of acquiring most all dairy farmers in the state.

"One more space on the board," Frederic compared. "They've rolled the dice and they're making their move."

Now, for farmer's like the Simon Brothers Dairy Farm, it's their turn to decide if they want to take a chance landing on the spot DFA now occupies.

"I would like to be optimistic to the standpoint that they would pay us fairly without competition in the area," Frederic said. "That remains to be seen."

If the ADCA does dissolve it will take 8 months to a year to shut everything down.

Dairy farmers at Thursday's meeting will officially vote to allow farmers to terminate their contracts with the ADCA.
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