Spearheaded by the Wisconsin Farmers Union with support from groups across the United States, Dairy Together is educating farmers, eaters, and lawmakers about how supply management can create a viable dairy economy.
Dairy Together embraces a vision to preserve and grow a vibrant agricultural landscape in Wisconsin and across the country; one where many farms operate at different scales to ensure a stable supply of food, use a variety of conservation practices to create a healthy environment, and generate enough profit for farmers and workers to make a good living doing something they love.
We envision a future where the rural communities supported by these farms are some of the most desirable places to live.
Building a farmer-led movement
Dairy farmers have been struggling through boom and bust price cycles for decades. The word “crisis” has become so familiar in farm country that it hardly registers alarm anymore. Nevertheless, the collapse in milk prices in 2015, coupled with the failure of both government and industry to keep them afloat, spurred dairy farmers into action. It sparked an interest in looking at solutions that would allow them to actually make a living on their farms. In 2018, Wisconsin Farmers Union began connecting with dairy farmers and allies across the country to explore ways to reform dairy markets. It turned out, we weren’t the only ones. We met with a number of farmers and farm organizations that agreed we need to curb overproduction and level the playing field to enhance the viability of family farm agriculture. And so, Dairy Together was born.
The dairy price crisis
In recent years, dairy news headlines have been dismal as a flood of milk on the market contributed to five years of depressed and volatile milk prices that eroded the quality of life for dairy farmers across the country. Over the last decade, the USDA recorded the loss of roughly 17,000 dairy farms, cutting the total number by nearly one third. Many of these farms have been driven out by government policies and industry practices that favor mass production of commodities over family farm viability.
The Dairy Revitalization Plan
Wisconsin Farmers Union calls on Congress to establish a mandatory program for managed growth, based on market demand and price stability. WFU supports the Dairy Revitalization Plan, based on the study, “Analyses of Proposed Alternative Growth Management Programs for the US Dairy Industry,” conducted by Charles Nicholson and Mark Stephenson and funded by the University of Wisconsin Baldwin Wisconsin Idea program, the Grassland 2.0 project, the Wisconsin Cover Crops Research and Outreach Program, and Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) of the University of Wisconsin.
Dairy at a crossroads
The U.S dairy industry is changing at a rapid pace. Over the last twenty years, the prevalence of very large dairies has transformed the structure of the dairy industry. These farms can continue to expand while others go out of business in droves. The only dairy farms that are growing in number are those with 2,000+ cows, while every other farm size category is in sharp decline. Federal dairy programs were not designed with these dynamics in mind. If we want to have diversity in farm size, location, production methods, and conservation practices - and realize our vision of a sustainable farm economy - we need to coordinate growth in milk production so that one farmers’ decision to expand doesn’t drive someone else out of business. If we do nothing, the writing is on the wall for the vast majority of the 30,000 dairy farms that remain, locking us into a very risky and uncertain future where just a handful of mega dairies supply all of our milk and dairy products.