LANCASTER — Scott Forbes hasn’t found the silver lining yet.
But he’s looking.
The 56-year-old co-owner of Forbes Farm, the largest dairy farm in New Hampshire, said the fifth-generation business continues to face economic challenges made worse by the pandemic.
Last year a milk surplus drove down prices. Meanwhile costs for fuel and grain have skyrocketed.
The farm received $700,000 in state COVID relief, which allowed it to continue operations in 2020, but market conditions have not improved in 2021, leaving Forbes Farm in need of additional help.
“The market hasn’t corrected itself,” Forbes said. “We’re just barely surviving at the moment.”
He called on Gov. Chris Sununu and Commissioner of Agriculture Shawn Jasper to address the milk price issue. He said a national co-operative, Dairy Farmers of America, is paying well below full price for milk — and that prices fluctuate unpredictably.
“We’ve got to have a stable milk price,” he said.
Meeting with Forbes on Wednesday, Sununu sympathized with the farmer’s concerns.
The governor said, “A couple of co-ops here really manage the bulk of the market. So we talked about what we may, or may not, be able to do from a state perspective to try and manage those prices.
Sununu offered lukewarm support for a dairy farm subsidy, which he termed a “short-term bandaid.”
He said that he preferred a market-based approach that addressed the root cause of the milk pricing problem in order to create “a long-term solution.”
Sununu promised to discuss the matter with Commissioner Jasper.
Beyond milk prices, Forbes outlined other challenges.
In the past year, he said, grain costs have increased “$5,000 per load” and fuel prices have gone up $1 per gallon. The farm requires 700 gallons of diesel fuel per day to harvest 3,700 acres of corn and grass in order to feed 3,200 head of cattle (including 1,200 milking cows).
To make ends meet, Forbes Farm has expended most of its cash reserves, sold off a farmhouse, and cut three staff positions. Forbes said there was no way to make the operation any leaner.
“We’re talking to the bank right now to borrow some more to survive the rest of the year,” he said.
Scott and his brother, Allan Jr., co-own Forbes Farm. It was started in 1902 by their great grandfather with 60 acres of land and a few milking cows, according to New England Dairy.
Sununu got a first-hand look at the operation on Monday.
Meeting at a 120-acre corn field by the Lancaster Fairgrounds, the governor hopped into a harvester with Forbes. They spent a half-hour cutting dry corn, which was fed into dump trucks and ferried to the farm for silage.
It will keep the cattle fed through winter. In the same way, Forbes hopes government aid can help the farm weather economic challenges and make it through to spring.
“We’re just looking for a steady paycheck to pay the bills, we’re not looking to get rich,” he said.