How do Dairy Farmers Make Money?

What if you didn’t know how much your paycheck would be each week? Many people have a pretty good idea of how much they will make in a year. Farmers didn’t.

The mission of Organic Valley was, and is, to make sure farmers had a steady paycheck without having to mass produce milk. This allows them to remain small family farms and not sell out to conglomerates. (Our cows get plenty of attention with dairy herd sizes that are smaller than the national average.)

While Organic Valley sets a stable pay price for its members, many farmers across the country have little or no control over the price they receive. Farmers sell their milk to a processor, which pays them based on the regional base prices for milk set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This amount is based on the price of goods (milk, cheese, etc.) traded at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, according to the National Family Farm Coalition.

Organic Valley’s philosophy is to keep the milk as close to processing plants and sales customers as possible. This helps keep costs down and ensures less impact on the environment.

A Little Money Goes a Long Way

Arnie Trussoni, an Organic Valley farmer who is still instrumental in the co-op, was farmer No. 11. He was at co-op meetings in the ’80s that started the movement.

Arnie Trussoni stands in a field and holds a baby at his organic farm in Wisconsin.

Arnie Trussoni spends time with family and the herd.

To begin, there wasn’t a big difference in the pay price farmers received by selling milk conventionally or organically but “a couple of dollars made a big difference, and there was a future and wishful thinking,” he said.

Slowly, things began to change.

From seven founding farmers in 1988 with a hope and a dream to more than 1,600 small organic family farms across the country today — this is Organic Valley.

“It was a very slow process,” Wedeberg said. “It’s like the roots growing under the soil but not showing much above ground. We were getting the roots established for demand.”

Demand came and the co-op grew. Organic Valley will continue to fight for small family farms and produce organic food that is free of antibiotics, synthetic hormones, toxic pesticides and GMOs.

It started with one milk truck traveling the winding roads of southwest Wisconsin and now Organic Valley milk trucks travel more than a million miles per year picking up milk across the country to bring nutritious organic products to hundreds of stores.

Thank you for joining us on this ride.

A broad look at the locations of Organic Valley’s first seven dairy farms.

A broad look at the locations of Organic Valley’s first seven dairy farms.

An antique typewriter fanatic and chicken mom who treasures time outdoors admiring all that nature has to offer, Jennifer McBride is Rootstock’s editor. McBride spent 15-plus years as a journalist and newspaper editor before finding her niche with the nation’s leading organic dairy cooperative. Contact her at

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