AUGUSTA (AP) – Milk prices have started to rise and are expected to continue going up in the months ahead.

While the price increase costs consumers, it is good news for dairy farmers, who get paid more for the milk they produce.

Stanley Millay, executive director of the Maine Milk Commission, said Mainers are paying $2.69 to $3.19 for a gallon of milk. He expects the prices to continue to go up, but the increase could be short-lived if people buy less cheese and butter because of higher dairy prices.

That’s because the price farmers receive for milk is based, in part, on the price of butter and cheese.

“If the milk supply is not being converted into those uses, the price then drops,” Millay said.

Julie-Marie Bickford, executive director of the Maine Dairy Industry Association, said dairy farmers nationally have been paid the lowest prices in 30 years during the past 22 months. She said 68 Maine dairy farms have folded in the last three years.

She said dairy farmers in Maine are encouraged by the higher prices, but they know it wouldn’t take much for the price to drop again.

Dale Cole, who operates a 95-cow dairy farm in Sidney, said a few months of higher prices are hardly enough to make up for the losses dairy farmers have experienced in recent years.

“Six months of high prices will not make up for the fuel increases, equipment costs and real-estate taxes we have to pay,” he said. “And like everything else, the feed costs have gone up dramatically. “

Robert Wellington, an economist for Agri-Mark, a New England dairy cooperative, said the higher milk prices could be an opportunity for dairy farmers to close down their operations.

“Their cows may be worth a little more, so they could sell them and get out of business,” Wellington said. “It’s a shame, but it’s so stressful. We’re hoping (the price increase in milk) will be enough for them to pay off the bills they’ve accumulated the last two years.”

AP-ES-04-09-04 0216EDT

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