Living on a prayer and an extra gallon of milk.


Dairy Farmers in Crisis

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.


11 Comments on Living on a prayer and an extra gallon of milk.

  1. R. James Cross
    March 19, 2018 at 12:59 pm (2 years ago)

    HI, Carrie, similar problems in the UK, for the second time in 5 years. From March 2014 we had a 44% price cut over 18 months, saw a gradual increase to a lower peak in August 2017, but from January this year we have seen another 18% cut which I can see will get worse. This on top of our (big) co-op going bust in 2009. I am amazed that more didn’t get out in the last trough; some have already been given notice by their buyers, and am not sure what will happen next. As you say too much milk: what is good for the individual farmer is not necessarily the best thing for the sector. As ever, thanks for your post.
    Best wishes, James

  2. wizardofnaz
    March 19, 2018 at 1:28 pm (2 years ago)

    Prayers for all the farmers, big and small, and a toast of a large, cold, delicious glass of milk to them.

  3. arthur m hackett
    March 19, 2018 at 1:55 pm (2 years ago)

    I feel your pain. I covered dairy economics from when I got into the news business around 1970. That was how many farm crises ago? I’ve lost track. Not just for dairy but for corn, soybeans, you name it. Much of the increased output came from changes that may have been wise. Some came from changes that seemed good because a salesman, Extension agent (I hope not because I worked for a division of UW Extension but I’m sure it happened) or whoever.
    There’s a principle called avoided cost. If you don’t spend the money, you don’t have to produce the output necessary to come up with the money. I’m sure that’s not news to you but sometimes what looks good may not be. No one is ever going to know and see everything but you at least have to have that somewhere near the top of your decision making process. Only you know how much thought you put into that.
    Supply and demand always bats last. If farmers go out of business supply will drop and prices will stabilize. The problem is the fewer and fewer producers there are, the less efficient the whole process becomes. If General Motors built all the cars in the world, in short order they would be less efficient cars and prices would go up. You would lose the knowledge base that came with competition and you would lose the diversity of suppliers that make the industry function. Because agriculture operates on a much smaller scale you don’t notice it contracting as much as if, say, Ford or Fiat Chrysler or Toyota folded up but there would be damage to the nation’s economy nonetheless.
    I don’t live in Wisconsin anymore so I appreciate your posts to keep me in touch with the dairy industry. (I know they milk cows in Iowa but they don’t talk about it as much. )

  4. Maggie Nutter
    March 19, 2018 at 1:57 pm (2 years ago)

    Hopefully your little boy will always have a farm to live on. I can’t imagine how hard this is on your family, for the
    older generation that nourished and grew your dairy, to the innocent unknowing generation coming up.

    How hard must be to contemplation the future and another possible round of letters.
    Thank you Carrie for informing us of the pain and struggle in your dairy community. May people stay safe physically and mentally.

    You are in my prayers
    Maggie Nutter

    PS I will eat extra cheese and skip the crackers this evening.

  5. Karen
    March 19, 2018 at 2:01 pm (2 years ago)

    I wish all of us dairy producers could stand together! If we all dumped our milk across this nation for a day, or even two days, or a week what would that do? As farmers we feed this nation a wholesome product. We all need to eat to survive, just like we need doctors when we are sick. Farmers are the backbone to this country. It’s so hard to believe we are where we are. God help us all!

  6. Jennifer
    March 19, 2018 at 3:06 pm (2 years ago)

    We are living this same unstable situation in grain farming minus the regular (small yes but present for now) milk check. It breaks my heart to think that my children might not have to opportunity to work and live on farming/agriculture in the future. One day at a time for now.

  7. Mari
    March 19, 2018 at 7:16 pm (2 years ago)

    I too, will buy an extra gallon of milk and get extra cheese on my pizza. All of us in the ag industry should support each other. My thoughts and prayers are with all of the dairy farmers and families.

  8. Glenn Nix
    March 20, 2018 at 1:10 am (2 years ago)

    Very similar things happening in Australia right now .When the Europeans where shut out of Russia they started dumping all over Asia & prices dropped . Right up to that point Governments & industry had been actively encouraging increased production . They where no where to be seen when things went pear shaped . Processors made farmers pay back increased prices that where payed on contracts signed up to a year before , value of contract is zero if they can do that . The complete dropping of growers is something i really do not get , iam sure if put to a vote most would prefer to share the pain across all suppliers of a 1, 2 3 or 4% reduction in contract . We now have ridiculous things happening in WA of milk being trucked from Victoria to WA for our annual autumn shortfall of production rather then paying locals more for the high cost autumn period .Cant be cheap to truck across a continent .

  9. Dawn C Panda
    March 21, 2018 at 5:44 pm (2 years ago)

    Carrie, your post brought tears to my eyes. I worked as a milker when I was a teen; I saw the dairy crash here in Oregon. I helped load a truck taking some of “my” gals to the slaughterhouse. Farmers I’d known my entire life were displaced; those proud white parlors torn down forever.
    I hope our farmers can make it through this. I’ll be drinking and promoting dairy products every chance I get. My little heifer will be producing beef for me, but I won’t be milking her…dairymen produce the best, safest product there is!

  10. Karen
    April 7, 2018 at 10:29 pm (2 years ago)

    Carrie, Very well said! I now live on my family’s Century Farm and know we are the end of the line. A sad time for family farms.

  11. Stamp Cafe near the Big Pond
    April 15, 2018 at 2:52 pm (2 years ago)

    Carrie, I’m watching you on PBS right now in the FarmHer documentary. I learned about your blog and have shared on my Facebook.