After more than a century of milk production, California’s oldest dairy is closing. The owner isn’t getting out of agriculture altogether, however—he’s switching out cows for trees.
Dino Giacomazzi is a fourth-generation dairy farmer in Hanford. Having produced milk since 1893, he suspects Giacomazzi Dairy may be the oldest west of the Rockies—or at least it was. In late October, Giacomazzi sold his 2,000-odd cattle off at auction, a decision he says wasn’t easy. “When you’re doing one thing for over 100 years, there’s a lot of identity in that and a lot of emotion built around that decision,” he says.
Giacomazzi says it was actually in 2013, slammed with the west’s historic drought, when he decided to begin transitioning from dairy to almonds. On a different property, he planted a few hundred acres of the trees, which he estimates should reach maturity in a few more years.
Why the change? Giacomazzi says he’s had a tough time staying afloat. It’s tough to keep such an old facility running efficiently, he says, but he also points to the state’s increasing regulations and the tight international milk market California dairy producers now find themselves competing in.
For decades, milk prices have practically stagnated, not even keeping up with inflation, while the costs of production and labor have steadily risen. It’s the smaller farms that have suffered: Over the past 20 years, nearly a third of the state’s dairies have shuttered, while the average herd size has more than doubled. “[Cailfornia]’s just become a very difficult place to be in ag in general, but being in dairy more specifically,” Giacomazzi says.
Although many farmers blame legislators or environmental groups—or both—for leaving them high and dry, Giacomazzi blames apathy. “The fact is that we’ve just shrunk to such an insignificant percentage of the population, it’s not necessarily that people are against us, it’s that they just don’t consider us,” he says.
Only after his 105-year-old grandmother died last year, Giacomazzi says, did he feel it was the right time to finally pull out of the dairy business. This week, he began enrolling his employees in almond production courses.