It’s rare that I find myself without words. However for the past few weeks, I’ve tried to write this post several times only to eventually walk away from a blank screen. I’m going to try again, because this is important. Please, if you don’t finish reading this whole post, don’t comment.
A year ago at this time almost 75 dairy farmers got an unprecedented letter from their milk company informing them that they would no longer have a place for their milk in 30 days. It was shocking not only to the farmers who received the letter but also to the dairy industry as a whole. Looking back, it was the clap of thunder before the storm really started.
In the last year, the price farmers have been paid for their milk has continued to drop. It is now at a price that is below the cost of production. Meaning every day that farms keep the lights on, we go a little further in debt. Remember, dairy farmers don’t get to set their price, milk is a commodity and we are told what we will be paid for it.
This leads us to three weeks ago. Once again around 100 dairy farmers in several states opened their mail box to find a letter letting them know that in 90 days, they would no longer have a place to sell their milk. Many, many others have received other letters and calls from their milk coops and companies letting them know that they aren’t on stable ground. Once again, the dairy industry has been rocked.
So why are we in this position? Of course when bad things happen, people naturally want to place blame. To be honest, we as dairy farmers only have ourselves to blame. Over the decades the number of dairy cows in our country hasn’t changed much. However, the amount of milk each cow makes has gone up significantly. Dairy farmers are always working to be better. We grow better feed, we build more comfortable barns, we use bulls with better genetics and in return our cows give more milk. For individual farms, more productive cows is a good thing. For the environment, having less cows producing more milk, is a good thing. But, when you look at the whole, with all of us doing more, it becomes obvious that we need a place to go with the extra milk. Supply is greater than demand, but you can’t just turn off the tap on a milk cow.
We have some seriously agonizing growing pains going on in our dairy community and it weighs heavily on the minds of us all. Farms are going to be selling cows and going out of the dairy business left and right in the coming months.
Meanwhile we will see the worst of the worst coming out here on Facebook. Vegans will be heralding this as a win, saying people are turning away from dairy, even though they couldn’t be farther from the truth. Worse yet, farmers will be turning on one another in comment sections as they try and play the blame game.
We will also see the better side coming out when we look beyond the noise. People putting an extra gallon of milk in their cart, ordering extra cheese on their pizza, adding farmers to their prayers or changing their Facebook profile picture to support dairy farmers is what is going to keep so many of us smiling in the tough times and giving us hope to go on. Thank you to those of you who do.
Tonight when we lay our heads down to sleep, we may not know the future, but we do know the passion that keeps us farming even in the hard times is strong but is nothing compared to the strength of the love and support of our family and friends. Thank you to everyone who loves farmers.