California could lose more than 100 dairies this year

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Economic difficulties could bring more than 100 dairies to the point of bankruptcy, foreclosure or sale by year's end, according to this story from the San Francisco Chronicle.   

"I've never seen it as dire as it is now," Frank Mendonsa, a Tulare, Calif., dairyman who serves on the Western United Dairymen board, told the newspaper. "Pride is just eating these guys up. People are calling me and asking me what to do. It becomes like a counseling session to stop people from hurting themselves. But it's not just losing our jobs that is driving the desperation. We're losing our houses, in some cases the same houses that our grandparents lived in, and we're losing our entire identities."

Tough times began in late 2008. Corn prices were high because of ethanol mandates, dairy exports suffered because of a global economic downturn, and a recession here at home made it more difficult for families to eat out at restaurants. Many producers had to dig into their equity to survive. 2009 went down as the worst year in the dairy industry since the Great Depression. There was moderate relief in 2010, followed by a good year in 2011. But feed costs skyrocketed out of control this year, making it very tough on dairymen in California and elsewhere. 

The situation is so bleak that at least one dairy cooperative has launched a crisis hotline for dairy farmers and their families. The hotline provides members with confidential counseling and support services to help those in the industry cope with life-altering changes.  Read more here.

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Sudhanva Patankar    
Mumbai, India  |  October, 16, 2012 at 08:59 AM

We were sorry & shocked to read miserable situation of scarcity of cattle feed in California. We are working in India on De-centralization of dairy industry. We can search the right type of cattle feed from India as per your requirement. Kindly inform the Physical & Chemical properties and also the annual quantity we shall need to export to California. We shall get each lot inspected by SGS International fore shipment so that our product shall be of the quality suitable to the cattle in California.

Wisconsin  |  October, 16, 2012 at 11:04 AM

Looking at the SanFranscisco Chronicles article and the hundreds of comments made on-line in response to it, it doesn't look as though the California dairyman is well regarded. It was sad to peruse the comments there and see that not one I found voiced any empathy for the dairy farmers losing their farms--not one voice of encouragement. Let's not ever let our small midwestern towns fall to this attitude of contempt for neighbor. It would be very difficult to lose the cows and land and career you have always known. People without a business in the family for multiple generations can't understand the commitment and risk which dairy farmers make. Those who don't eat meat or consume dairy products don't see the whole picture in balance, and should not use another's hardship to promote their own agenda. How many cows, and how many pounds of milk production will be lost if these 100 farms go down? DHM, please make mention of those estimates, for those of us who understand dairying and are fortunate enough to be able to continue dairying for at least another year...those figures could influence our risk protection plans. I surely hope California agriculture can come out for the better through this...rerouting land-use to other types of agricultural production, providing the technical assistance to farmers converting their line of income to other agricultural production.

Joe Dairyman    
USA  |  October, 16, 2012 at 12:53 PM

It's real sad most of these are family farms that have been in the family for a long time. The public with their nasty comments just don't get the fact that the more that leave the business more of the production will be in the hands of few. The very thing that the public dislikes large farms. There is a reality on how we get milk from cows and technology has come a long way. The public continues to criticize the industries advances. People also don't realize the many products in the food industry that have dairy ingredients in them. They also don't realize that that when they these dairies families leave they probly are not ever going to have the finacial resources to come back. They may not want too. The public also don't understand that cows consume many byproducts from processing plants that process food. I hope the price of milk doubles in the store. I hope food gets short because of Ethanol. It's time to put those in there place that have no respect for those that feed them.

Batavia, NY  |  October, 17, 2012 at 10:39 AM

It is sad when a farm that has been in business for more than a generation goes out of business. But this is inevitable. In 1999 I toured California dairies and saw so many being built with money from the real estate market of Chino and other areas. The quantity and scale of construction was tremendous. I said then that this is NUTS! Many of these facilities were being built by owners that could not run a 100 cow dairy to say nothing about 1000s of cows. And with the necessity to truck grain in over the mountains from the Midwest and possible water issues, it is a surprise that California has lasted this long. Over the years since, their over production has driven down the price of milk for the rest of the country. And now I am supposed to feel bad??? The loss of these cows and producers does not mean there will be a food shortage. The end of the world is not near if the California dairy industry contracts to a more stable level. Building huge facilities with thousands of cows to feed with boughten feed is a poor economic model.

Illinois  |  October, 18, 2012 at 10:11 AM

Having been a Dairyman for over 25 years . Here is some info or food for thought . As I have seen the Dairy industry grow in Ca the last 20 years , The main reason I feel is land value and mostly Tax code 1031 exchange. Option ? tighten it up to a true "Like kind Exchange" not a $ dollar amount . Higher feed cost , Take the Hedge Funds & Speculators out of the grain Pits ! If you can't take delivery of the grain, get out of the Grain pits! , you are making an emotional decision ,not based on supply & demand. When was the last time you made a business decision based on emotion and it was a good one? I feel it not good for producer or end user. Blame Ethanol !! Yes ,I am a midwest livestock guy and an Ethanol Guy . You have 28 to 32 pounds out of every Bushel [56 #] comes back out as livestock &Poultry feed . The Ethanol Industry has brought some cattle back into the midwest because of the DDG 's I don't know many humans that eat #2 yellow grain corn . But the US petro. Industry & Wholesale Grocers Assoc team up to tell us that's the reason they have a EXCUSE to raise our food prices in the store when we don't get the same bump on the farm or Dairy . And when Ethanol wholesale price is LOWER cost than gasoline , How does that make your gallon cost more ? That is what is told to many consumers !! Agriculture is the Backbone of the United States, we all need to stand up and be heard. We as Agriculture may not always agree , but We still live in the ONLY place in the World I want to Live !!! Make sure You VOTE !!

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