It’s been 20 years and I don’t know if Bob is still alive. He was 62 when I met him in 1992.
Bob called me right after I took over as editor of Dairy Herd Management to complain about a headline that my predecessor ran. The headline — “The Milk Price Windfall” — stirred some resentment among producers, since it referred to $13 milk, and even back then $13 was not really a windfall.
I told Bob that I would come to see him on an upcoming trip to Wisconsin.
It was a summer morning when I drove to Bob’s farm in western Wisconsin. Little did I know that it would soon involve Bob and 25 or so of his neighbors. Everyone was cordial enough, but it was obvious that those in attendance didn’t think they were getting paid enough for their milk. Some of them expressed a desire to see federal price supports raised — and price supports were actually relevant back then.
I think back now to what an innocent time that was. Yes, there were problems, but they were relatively benign compared to what people have to deal with today.
For one thing, the price of corn in late summer 1992 was $2 per bushel. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that price again!
Feed prices were relatively stable — none of the wild gyrations that we see in commodity markets today. For one thing, feed prices weren’t being buffeted nearly as much by world affairs. Yes, there were situations before 1992, such President Carter’s grain embargo against the Soviet Union, which was meant to punish the Soviets for their brutal invasion of Afghanistan, but ended up hurting U.S. farmers in the process. Today, we don’t have to take action — the world comes to us. The world economy has a profound impact on the prices that farmers receive for their products.
In 1992, no one cared what was going on in China.
The average dairy farm in 1990 was 52 cows. Today, it is 150 to 180 cows, depending on which measure you use: (1) USDA’s definition of a dairy farm, which is one or more cows, or (2) the number of farms that have permits to sell Grade A or Grade B milk. It was much simpler to run a 50-cow dairy with family labor than it is today with hired workers.
There weren’t as many distractions going on in society. In 1992, people didn’t worry about animal-rights activists showing up at their farms.
The internet was just opening up to the average person in 1992. So much has changed in 20 years, except dairy farmers still aren’t getting paid enough for their milk.
You can look at the changes as either challenges or opportunities. Certainly, with regard to international affairs, a booming export market has helped the dairy industry in recent years. Last year, we exported 13 percent of our dairy production on a milk-solids basis. And, the internet has made it so much easier to access information. In 1992, people were telling me they hadn’t missed a milking in 20 years. Today, with hired labor, they have the opportunity to take a vacation.
Twenty years later, I want to thank Bob for giving me a definitive timeline. I hope he is still out there.