“Reality.” It’s a word I’ve run across lately more than I’d like.
The reality is, or so I’ve been told, that little can be done to save the hundreds of dairy farmers who are going out of business and being wiped from the landscape of America’s Dairyland. The reality is that farms that have been in families for generations are being sold off, piece by piece. Farms that once supported a family can no longer pay the bills on milk prices that have been in the trough for nearly five years. Meanwhile farm debt and bankruptcies, farmer suicides, and rural mental health issues are all on the rise, and our Main Streets are dying.
In 2018, Wisconsin lost nearly 700 dairy herds, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. This problem isn’t limited to the Dairy State. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. lost 2,731 (6.5%) of licensed dairy farms from 2017 to 2018.
But who shapes this reality? As consumers, farmers, farm organizations, local leaders and elected officials, are we willing to accept this ongoing loss of family farms? Or can we learn to work together and organize for the greater good?
The upcoming Dairy Together Road Show, being organized by National Farmers and Farmers Unions organizations across the country, is bringing farmers and dairy industry professionals together to reshape that reality. The series, which kicks off March 27 at the WPS Farm Show in Oshkosh, will present research-based solutions to rebuild a viable dairy economy for family farms and rural communities.
What factors are leading us down the road of family farm loss? An antiquated federal market order system that no longer serves the purpose it was intended for when implemented nearly a century ago. Prices that are crippled under the weight of an increasingly vertically integrated industry and production that no longer balances supply with demand. Yes, even as we lose family farms at an alarming rate and milk prices continue their long slog, milk production continues to boom onward, unthrottled. The USDA recently announced a milk production forecast of 219.7 billion pounds for 2019, an increase of more than 2 billion pounds over 2018 production.
On top of that, exports are not keeping pace with long-touted promises and expectations, particularly given the impact of recent tariffs on agricultural commodities. The American farmer is learning we cannot export our way out of flooded markets.
Last, but certainly not least, growing consolidation, particularly in the meatpacking, seed and agrochemical industries, are leaving farmers with fewer options and slashed profits.
As the alarm clock rings, many a farmer is already lying in bed, wide awake, mulling over whether the milk check or auction barn stub that is anticipated will result in profit or the dreaded “void” of a tank load or animal not being worth enough to merit a paycheck.
Wisconsin Farmers Union does not believe that this new “reality” is inevitable. We believe family farm agriculture is vital to the economic and social health of our rural communities. We believe that an agricultural system with more farmers on the land results in a more stable and secure food supply. We’re not willing to sit back and accept that “consolidation is inevitable” or “it’s too late to turn the tide.”
The Dairy Together Road Show will be looking beyond milk labeling, increasing exports, and dairy insurance plans to actual long-term solutions. The groups also plan to unveil short-term emergency relief measures for dairy farmers.
At the heart of the Road Show will be information on National Farmer's two-tiered program proposal as well as the Analyses of Selected Dairy Programs to Reduce Volatility in Milk Prices and Farm Income, which was conducted by Mark Stephenson from the University of Wisconsin and Chuck Nicholson from Cornell University. The research backs these programs ability to:
Increase net farm operating income
Increase average milk price
Reduce rate of farm losses
Reduce government expenditures
Friends, I believe the “reality” does not have to continue down this road. Fellow farmers, farm organization leaders, ag lenders, cooperative leaders and others who depend on the business of farmers – I implore you to attend one of these free meetings. Any meaningful dairy reform is going to take a strong coalition pushing forward for change, and our family farmers cannot continue to wait. It’s time for us to Pull Together and decide what reality we really want for our family farms and rural communities!
RSVP to attend these free events! Dairy Together Road Show locations include:
• Cortland, New York: March 28, 11am-2pm, New York State Grange Building, 100 Grange Place. Includes lunch. RSVP at DairyTogether.com, or by calling the NFO Cortland office at 844-378-4169 or local 607-543-4169.
• Brattleboro, Vermont: April 3rd, 11am-2pm, Holstein Association USA Headquarters, Brattleboro, VT. Includes lunch. RSVP at DairyTogether.com, or by calling Roger Noonan, New England Farmers Union, 603-487-2540. Handicapped parking available at the meeting location:
1 Holstein Pl. All others can park in the nearby municipal parking center: 77 Flat Street.
• Oshkosh, Wisconsin: March 27, 10am-noon, WPS Farm Show, EAA Grounds (Hospitality Room inside Hangar A), 1001 Waukau Ave. Free for WPS Farm Show attendees but you must pay $3 per vehicle to park.
• Eau Claire, Wisconsin: April 2, 11am-2pm, 29 Pines, 5872 33rd Ave.Includes lunch.
• Platteville, Wisconsin: April 4, 12-2:30pm, UW-Platteville Pioneer Farm, 29200 College Farm Rd. Includes lunch.
RSVP for the Wisconsin event of your choosing at dairytogether.com, or by calling WFU at 715-723-5561.
• St. Johns, Michigan: April 9, 10:30am-2:30pm, Agroliquid Headquarters, 3055 M-21. Includes lunch. RSVP at dairytogether.com or to Jackie McAlvey at 989-285-2547.
• Greenwald, Minnesota: April 16, 10am-12pm, Greenwald Pub, 310 1st Ave. N. Lunch to follow. RSVP at dairytogether.com or to Bruce Miller at 651-288-4064.
• Modesto, California: April 29, 12-2:30pm, Stanislaus County Agricultural Center, 3800 Cornucopia Way. RSVP at www.DairyTogether.com or by calling Lynne McBride at 209-632-0885
• Clovis, New Mexico: May 2, 11am-2pm, Curry County Extension Building, 1900 East Brady Avenue. Includes lunch. RSVP at DairyTogether.com, or to Nick Levendofsky at 303-283-3528.
RSVP for events and learn more about the effort at www.dairytogether.com.