Letter to the Editor: Real Family Farms Need A Future

Chickens learn from experience, people, not so much! Another application for expansion of an already huge dairy herd has been submitted to the Wisconsin DNR. This time in Kewaunee County and is also a permit renewal and expansion request for a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation just across the county line. The earlier request from a Door County farm cited expansion as being necessary for economic survival and I suspect that same argument will be used for this latest application. There has been a lot of commentary about the logic of expanding dairy operations when there is, has been, and will be a glut of milk being produced in excess of the need. Perhaps the blame for this situation can be laid on the large processor dairy plants that always have volume push as their basis and sometimes might favor centralization of bigger farms to cut their costs. A more obvious blame can be placed on the University and Department of Agriculture in Madison for promoting the trend from conventional dairy farms to much larger operations, to become “more efficient.” Sustainability, not important!

Controlling supply and demand is essential for long-term success in any business, if it is possible. Canadian officials halted some of the imported milk into that country to bolster their milk price for farmers by regulating supply and doing it without having to pay them a subsidy. Most people would agree that allowing supply to exceed demand is a fast formula for a problem. There needs to be stability in milk pricing to ensure that ordinary farmers are not impacted as much by deviating prices, and are able to survive. Price supports are a necessary option that keeps an amount of stability in milk prices, but these supports should not be an end tool to make money from dairy farming, or as an incentive to increase volume in an already flooded market.

During the past years, from 1980 through 1998, 90 percent of the dairy production in Wisconsin was for Grade A fluid milk market, with 10 percent producers shipping grade B (manufacturing) milk, for a lesser price. That trend has reversed with 90 percent of the milk now is used for manufacturing Class II (soft manufacturing; cottage cheese, yogurt, etc.) and Class III (hard manufacturing, butter, cheese, etc.) with the original 10 percent now being qualified for Grade A fluid milk market, at a premium price. Class II and III have replaced B grade at a lower price and 90 percent is priced as such.

The bottom line is if you are having a problem making it go with 2,000 animals, there is no real justification that it will be better with 3,500 or 5,000 animals. Just a lot more work and expense to expedite the inevitable, and compound that problem with a few bad crop years and you are going to be history soon. If the big operation you are operating under your name is financed by outside lenders that insist you must expand, keep in mind that if you default, the lender has a ready-made farming operation and you would humbled and no longer be involved.

FmHA Federal lending formerly maintained that a “qualifying family farm” has the owner’s family and one part- or full-time employee. Most of these large farms are way beyond the category of being family farms and should not be claiming to be such. We need to do whatever we can to make sure that real “family” farms are still a part of our Wisconsin landscape into the future so all of the children can grow up in an atmosphere that is conducive to healthy living. Good neighbors, clean water, and communities not under siege are a vital part of our American heritage, and we need to take the action to ensure they are here for the future.

Jerry Viste

Sturgeon Bay, Wis.

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