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Dairy Farmer Says She Won’t Be Bullied into Repaying $50,000 to Dean Foods

Tyne Morgan

December 3, 2020

A Dean Foods’ dairy debacle is playing out, and dairy farmers are frustrated. As Farm Journal’s MILK reported this week, farmers who shipped to Dean Foods prior to the company’s bankruptcy are now being asked to help pay Dean Foods’ debt. In debt settlement letters sent by lawyers representing Dean Foods trustees, the company demanding dairy farmers repay money they were paid for shipping milk.

Jessica Peters is a dairy farmer in Meadville, Penn. and received one of those letters last week. She says she was immediately overcome with unwelcome emotions.

“When I first opened it, just like complete confusion, because the legal jargon is over everyone's head if you're not a paralegal or a lawyer, and it took me about 10 or 15 minutes to really sink in what was happening,” says Peters of Spruce Row Farms. “Tears immediately came to my face. I was lost and confused.”

Peters shipped milk to Dean Foods for more than a decade. After the company filed for bankruptcy in 2019, a turn of events she discovered on social media and not through the company, she thought her relationship with Dean Foods was over. And now with the company demanding money back, Peters says the confusion quickly turned to anger.

“They want money back they paid us after we sold them our milk to their plant, and paid to ship it there,” she says. “They then paid me for it, and they processed it and sold it elsewhere. They now want the money back they paid me for my milk, which is a product that’s long gone. This was a year and a half ago.”

Peters says in the letter, Dean Foods’ lawyers are claiming Spruce Row Farms owes Dean Foods $50,000, with a settlement amount that equates to around $45,000. The lawyers state Spruce Row Farms has until December 24, 2020 to pay it.

“The amount is varying based on the farm, but nobody seems to understand how that amount is being calculated,” she adds. “It does vary based on the size of the farm, but proportionately it's not making sense either.”

Peters says not only does she think she’s not legally obligated to pay the $50,000 Dean Foods is demanding, she doesn’t want to pay lawyer fees to fight the legal battle, either.

“You get this legal letter saying you owe someone $50,000, well we don't have that money lying around,” says Peters. “And on top of that, if we have to go out individually and put a lawyer on retainer, that's hundreds of dollars an hour they bill you just to read the document. That's also money I don't have or want to spend. It's just absolutely ridiculous.”

Peters says Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board is stepping up to help dairy farmers in the state fight what Dean Foods is demanding, plus, she says a few other farm groups are looking into legal action to counter Dean’s letters. But she says she’s also frustrated with the farm groups doing nothing to help.

“I think there are going to be some large dairy related organizations not stepping in and that's going to speak volumes,” she says. “There are organizations that we all pay into and that we subscribe to, because we have to and we don't even have a choice, and if they don't stand up for us now, that's going to say a lot to not just the dairy farmers dealing with this, but the dairy farmers all over the country.”


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