Rising Milk Prices Cause Some To Change Habits

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Milk prices are expected to soon reach record highs in Nevada, and some consumers say they plan to change their buying habits.

The Nevada Dairy Commission has warned that milk prices could climb another 50 cents a gallon later this month as part of a nationwide trend fueled by a variety of factors, including higher feed costs.

Some grocery stores already show whole milk surpassing $3.45 a gallon.

Zac Smith of Reno, who blends protein shakes with milk after workouts, said he goes through two to three gallons weekly.

"I'd have to drink less" to offset higher prices, he told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Cynthia Bartley of Susanville, Calif., said keeping enough milk for her four children means cutting back on other items. Her family consumes about 1 1/2 gallons of milk daily.

"We'll just spend less on sodas and buy cereals on sale. I'm not going to stop them from drinking milk," Bartley said. "It's just like gas. It's a necessary evil type deal."

People with little or no disposable income will be adversely affected, said Janice Ayres, executive director of the Nevada Rural Counties Retired Senior Volunteer Program.

The agency assists needy people in 15 rural counties, many of them seniors on fixed incomes.

"Some people will have to do without milk or dairy products. It's as simple as that because they're barely scraping by as it is," Ayres said.

Pete Olsen, who heads the family-run Hillside Dairy four miles south of Fallon, said he understands consumers' concerns.

"But nobody was talking about this when prices were low," he said. "When we were getting our butts kicked, nobody was asking how we were doing."

He said record-low prices in 2002 and 2003 caused major problems for dairy operators.

The past two years have been among the family's most difficult in the Hillside Dairy's 89 years in business, Olsen said.

"We burned equity for two years. There's a lot of holes behind us that have to be filled," Olsen said.

Raley's Supermarkets has taken steps to minimize the pain for milk consumers, said spokeswoman Nicole Townsend.

"We've made an effort to ensure our popular gallon sizes can be purchased for competitive prices," she said. "But ... our customers may see a slight increase in other dairy products in smaller-than-gallon sizes."