"One of the greatest experiences I have had" - a young farmer's take on the Dairy Toge
Today I got back from a great experience with the Wisconsin Farmers Union. As you may or may not know, 20 Wisconsin active and retired dairy farmers, media representatives, and WFU staff started our 18 hour journey to Albany, New York to a Dairy Summit hosted by Agri-Mark. We also managed to pick up 5 people in Michigan and the Ohio Farmers Union President Joe Logan.
We had some conversations and activities on the way, including singing and discussing why everyone was going. We all shared our stories which included some farmers who were feeling utterly depressed and were talking about possibly quitting if nothing changed. We had a great time singing and eating snacks served by the new Snack Coordinator, Kenna Jakubek. We eventually arrived at our hotels after a long trip, ready to sleep and all of us feeling nervous for what was going to happen during the meeting the next day.
The morning started out with a group interview with Dave Natzke, an editor with the Progressive Dairyman. and a hotel continental breakfast. Then we all either walked or took a shuttle to the building the meeting was in. The meeting started out slow, but picked up speed relatively quick. We were taught about past efforts at helping dairy farmers on the Federal level that failed either because they had no long term plan of controlling supply or simply were canceled before they could run their full course. We had a brief coffee break where I met a reporter from Canada. A couple lawyers then talked about other industries that tried implementing supply programs in the US but were faced with immense class action lawsuits.
We then were given hour to eat lunch and everyone discussed with fellow attendees. We all eventually shuffled back in and the meeting commenced once again. We returned with a wonderful segment about Canadian Supply Management told by a Canadian Dairy Farmer from Ontario. He spoke about how there system was implemented and how it works for them and talked about how it can work for us if we tweak for our country and make a system that is even better than Canada's by learning from their mistakes. After that, we started with the proposals, which can all be found at dairyproposals2018.com, where you can comment and give feedback on all of the great proposals. All the proposals had merit to them and mostly dealt with some kind of long term supply management. One of the greatest proposals didn't deal with supply management but dealt with Whole milk. It was called the Whole Milk Act, an legislative action to get Whole Milk, the most flavorful and tasty version milk, back in schools for kids instead of 1%, skim, and fat free milk. This act would allow kids to get hooked to a sweeter and healthier milk to increase demand among the younger generations. I got up and mentioned my the complete support for this Act as a high school student myself, who can only drink the chocolate milk at school because of the absolute lack of taste in 1% and skim milk.
Kara O'Connor, our Wisconsin Farmers Union Government Reactions Director spoke about the Dairy Price Stabilization Program, an idea that was almost put in action by the 2014 Farm Bill but was shot down by organizations with deeper pockets. Mike McAfee, a dairy farmer from the California Milk Campaign talked about the three legged stool idea, a supply management idea that mainly comprised of farmers having control over price, supply, and some discipline over exports and imports. All ideas proposed had great merit and will be undergoing analysis to figure out what will work best. The rest of the meeting was about what the legislative representatives and Congress representatives there thought.
Finally, we talked about what is next and what we need to agree on. A strong majority of farmers that attended the conference believed in the management of the supply, price, and discipline in imports and exports. After the meeting adjourned we sold some of our Pull Together and Support Family Farms signs to Farm Aid, the sponsor of our bus that we are so grateful for. On our way to take a picture with the Capitol Building in background, I talked with the friendliest elderly couple I ever met, Dale and Dorothea Von Ruden, parents of Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden. They were so happy that I was motivated to support the industry and Dale talked about how he is disappointed that he can't drink whole milk straight from the tank anymore but he says he continues to eat dairy products as much as he can. We took pictures and loaded back on the bus for the long ride home. On the bus, we called WFU Communications Director Danielle Endvick about what we learned and what motivated us at the meeting.
Farmers who were depressed and had talked about how they had considered quitting before the meeting became exceptionally positive after the meeting- seeing how they are not alone in their struggles and that there is support for a supply management program. We all drifted to sleep after talking for a while among each other.
The next morning we talked stopped at rest stop and I found an excuse along with Keith Kreager to eat ice cream sundaes for breakfast. We then headed to Tina Hinchley's farm in Cambridge, WI. There, we spoke with press representatives from major Ag magazines. I talked to a reporter from Agri-View. After touring her farm, we started the last stretch home. We arrived in Madison, where we said our goodbyes and our hopes to see each other at the Summer Conference on Thursday, Aug. 16th. WFU Membership Director Deb Jakubek and Central Wisconsin farmers headed to Family Farm to do one last press talk before we all went our separate ways.
The trip to the 2018 Dairy Summit is one of the greatest experiences I have had with WFU and I hope to see more meetings come out of these discussions across the country. I will be writing a newspaper op-ed and will be keeping in contact with press to try and keep fanning the flames of the discussion of supply management. I can't wait to attend the Summer Conference this Thursday and the NFU Washington D.C Fly-in next month.