It's difficult to imagine today, but there was a time — in the 1930s and '40s — when milk-dumping and price wars were facts of life in Arizona's dairy industry.
© Arizona Historical Society
Milkmen and milk trucks line the street outside Tucson's Yale Dairy in 1931.
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By Danielle Grobmeier
Much has changed since the early days of Arizona’s dairy industry. In the 1930s and ’40s, only a handful of large dairy farms were operational, making small, family-owned dairies a lucrative venture in agrarian communities.
Thanks to an increase in defense jobs, Arizona’s population exploded during World War II, and those family-owned operations saw the boom as a green light for expansion — more land and larger herds. But the bubble led to excessive milk production and, ultimately, not enough demand from distributors.
A lack of organization also left family farms at the mercy of outside influences, such as labor disputes. When the milk-truck drivers went on strike, for example, no one came to pick up milk from the dairies. In the book United Dairymen of Arizona: Our First Fifty Years, Bobbie Kerr, whose family owned a small dairy farm in the Phoenix area, wrote of one such strike: “I don’t remember how many days [the strike lasted], but I do remember having to find a place on our farm to dump our milk.”
Such events devastated family-owned dairies. Eventually, they decided to organize and establish Arizona dairy-industry guidelines. Several competing dairy co-ops were created, and they managed excess milk by drying it into powdered milk or converting it into cheese.
In addition, by the 1950s, federal regulations intended to manage agriculture prices began to reshape the industry, eventually ending the milk-price wars that had broken out between competing grocery chains.
A 1960 merger between two of the major dairy co-ops — the Arizona Dairymen’s League and the Arizona Milk Producers Association — resulted in the United Dairymen of Arizona, which remains a prominent co-op today. The unification of the two organizations, as well as uniform pricing practices across the board, contributed to the stabilization of Arizona’s dairy industry.
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