Entee Sublett and his dad have to buy all of the feed needed for their 750-cow milking herd, so high feed cost the past few years has taken its toll. In fact, they haven’t had a good year since 2008-2009, when things really started to nosedive.
“The last several years have eaten into our equity,” says Sublett, a 31-year-old dairyman from central Texas. “It’s taken everything we have to survive.”
But things are starting to improve. In October, Sublett’s area got 11 inches of rain, which brought back some green to a drought-ravaged landscape. And, lower feed costs have returned some green to his pocketbook.
2013 may go down as a turn-around year. “Without all of the mounting debt from previous years, this would have been a good year,” he says.
Sublett’s experience pretty well describes the situation: It’s been a mixed bag around the country this year, depending on the weather.
For Clarence Castleberg, dairy farmer from northwest Wisconsin, the weather wasn’t so good.
Winterkill from cold temperatures in the spring and dry weather in the summer caused him to lose half of his normal hay production. That forced him to buy hay for 150 cows. As of early November, he was buying hay locally from other farmers in the area, but worried that the local supply could dry up in a few months.
“Some farmers are in good shape in my area, and some of us are suffering from the low milk price and lack of feeds,” he says.
Castleberg acknowledges that he falls into the latter category. Milk prices at $18 to $19 per hundredweight, he says, are below his cost of production.
The cost of all inputs — from seed to fertilizer — has risen, taking the profit out of the operation. The only bright spot is a lower corn price.
By mid-November, the cost of ground corn (delivered from feed mills) had dropped considerably from last spring. In many locations in the West, ground corn had dropped to around $220 per ton, compared to $310 or so last May and June.
Garden of Eden
Last year, producers in southern Michigan had to deal with dry conditions. This year, more than one farmer in that area (south of Interstate 94) has commented that it’s more like the Garden of Eden — thanks to timely rains.
So says Ken Nobis, who farms in central Michigan, but has a good overview of the entire state since he is the leader of a milk cooperative.
“I think everyone has enough feed this year,” he says.