Half Of Alaska’s Commercial Dairy Farming Is Shutting Down Due To Labor Shortage

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One of Alaska’s two commercial dairy farms is closing for the summer because the owners cannot find reliable workers, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Northern Lights Dairy, six hours northwest of Anchorage, sent its last delivery earlier this month and will remain closed until at least the fall. “We’re hoping this is temporary,” co-owner Lois Lintelman told the Daily News-Miner. “We’re hoping that the problem with not having help will be fixed.”

Northern Lights Dairy is one of two commercial dairy farms in the entire state of Alaska, according to Greg Booher, a dairy consultant. It has been in business since 1978 and supplied dairy products to stores and military outposts throughout Alaska.

Don and Lois Lintelman bought the property near Delta Junction, Alaska in 1970. The couple built up the property from a lone trailer to a sprawling farm with homes, barns, and storage facilities.

The farm is home to more than 100 Holstein and Jersey cows. The couple said that their three sons and a herdsman help process and distribute the milk to three military bases and three Safeway grocery stores.

The couple said that one reason they are having trouble finding reliable work is due to construction at nearby Fort Greeley, where the government is installing a ground-based midcourse missile defense interceptors.

“A farmer can’t pay the wages that they’re getting at Fort Greely, and that’s what everyone thinks they should get,” Lois Lintleman said. “How can a farmer pay $20 to $30 an hour?”

Alaska imports milk from the lower 48 states, but the Lintlemans say that freshness is their advantage. “What comes from Seattle takes longer, and it’s ultra-pasteurized and really different from what we have,” Don Lintleman told the Daily News-Miner earlier this month.

While customers are willing to pay more for a fresher product, there is still a cap on how much more they can charge.

In 1959, there were 525 dairy farms in the United States that accounted for nearly half of the states’ agricultural production. The largest state-owned dairy farm, the Matanuska Maid dairy in Anchorage, closed in 2008.

The problem in Alaska is also a part of a wider issue for America’s dairy farmers. While prices on dairy products have dropped in recent years, milk production in the U.S. isn’t slowing down. (RELATED: Congress Asks USDA To Bail Out Dairy Industry)

Milk prices dropped by 40 percent since 2014, and the nation’s cheese stocks were recorded at their highest level since data was first recorded in 1917.

The Lintlemans hope to re-open in the fall if they can find reliable help.

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Ted Goodman