We get it. Lots of us aren’t sleeping as well as we used to, whether it’s continued dairy consolidation, milk prices or family finances that are at the core of the knot in our collective stomachs.
One reader writes, “I have been watching this trend [of declining small dairies] for my whole career—15 years so far. Strangely enough it drove me to work in the organic dairy industry, not because I necessarily believed organics, but because it provided a living wage for farmers and a way to fight the attrition on dairy farming as a family business. Unfortunately we are now seeing the same market trends in the organic industry too. But the idea of fighting for a living wage, a stable pay-price, is still worthy, whether it’s through a value- added label or fighting to regain value in a traditional one—although I suspect it almost impossible to push back such an established devaluation.”
A recent dairyherd.com poll asked readers to pinpoint their biggest heartaches. When we asked, "What's keeping you awake at night?" here’s what respondents said:
A former dairy production medicine veterinarian points to technology as a potential culprit.
“I’ve seen this coming over the last 40 years. It’s plain and simple technological unemployment. Our land grant universities have done a tremendously good job supplying technology to enable more milk production. The technology influx also causes an oversaturated milk market resulting in depressed milk prices. As I give the technology to one dairyman, his herd can do what two small family farms could do. Then two family farms and a way of life are gone to the auction sale. This is happening at an accelerated rate in Stearn County, Minn., as I write this.”
These trends, he says, also increases the threat of dairy farm suicides, but he does see solutions.
“One temporary fix would be to establish nonGMO-verified milk and a milk products market. (Organic certifications for farm and dairy would take too long to fix this economic crisis.) It’s just the market for the typical family looking for a perceived safe yet affordable product for their families. Maybe we should promote the quality of the dairy product over quantity.”
And those who’ve exited the market point to increased consolidation, as identified in the 2017 Census of Agriculture. They also note how it’s changed the landscape of our rural countryside.
I'm in my 60s now and retired, but I use to have a dairy farm in Wisconsin years ago,” writes one reader. “It’s sad to see when I travel the country roads of Wisconsin now just about all the small family farms are gone. Unless whomever owns what’s left of the farm buildings takes care of the animal barn, most of the cattle barns are gone or mainly falling down, and there are usually large and small silos standing alongside these broken-down barns.
“The land is mostly being farmed by the big operators. It wasn't always easy running a dairy operation, but I did love working with cattle and working the land. Now with these mega farms, I think it’s almost impossible for a small family farm to even exist these days. I know I could have never been able to compete with one of the large farms I see today. Anyway, at least I had the opportunity to once own my small farm, which I believe is impossible for young guy to be able to do these days. I wonder who is going to own and control these mega farms and our food supply in the future in America?”
What’s keeping you awake at night? Share your thoughts on this topic here.
Would you encourage your children to enter the dairy industry? Take the poll here.