As Milk Prices Decline, Worries About Dairy Farmer Suicides Rise : NPR

“The nation’s dairy farmers are facing their fourth year of depressed milk prices. The outlook is so bleak, it’s increased worries about farmer suicides. One recent outreach effort drew criticism.”

Source: As Milk Prices Decline, Worries About Dairy Farmer Suicides Rise : NPR

The situation for dairy farmers in 2017 was not good. A lot of diary operations are running right on the edge, trying to stay profitable at a time when there is ever shrinking demand for liquid milk for drinking, and a glut of other dairy products like cheese, butter and powdered milk. This story above from NPR illustrates just how bad the situation is getting. Go read the article if you have the time. It isn’t very long.

If you don’t have the time, here’s a brief summary: A dairy co-op in the north east US, Agri-Mark, has seen three of it’s farmer members commit suicide in the last few years. Agri-Mark makes Cabot cheese among other products, and has about 1,000 members. In February when it sent out the milk checks, it included a chart showing just how bad the dairy market was looking for the upcoming year, and a list of suicide prevention hotlines. The reporter talked with Will Rogers, who milks 75 cows in Massachusetts, who is having a difficult time keeping above water. Even more upsetting is the fact that his own father who used to own the farm, killed himself because of financial problems.

While the letter from Agri-Mark was probably well intentioned, it certainly added to the stress a lot of it’s farmers are already facing and Rogers says in the article, it might push some farmers so far that they think “there’s no point in going on.” Agri-Mark certainly could have done a better job of trying to communicate with it’s farmer members.

And as if dairy farmers don’t have enough problems, they are increasingly worried about being able to sell their milk at all. Dean Foods just told at least two dozen farmers in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and four other states that Dean will no longer take their milk as of May 31, leaving them scrambling to find a milk processor they can sell their milk to.

The same thing happened here in Wisconsin last year about this time when Grassland rather abruptly dumped a group of farmers, leaving them to desperately try to find a market for their milk.

The article at Dairy Management about Dean seems to be trying to blame Walmart for Dean’s decision. Walmart used to buy it’s in-house brand milk from Dean, but Walmart is building it’s own milk processing facility in Indiana which will come on-line in May, so Dean is going to be losing a significant amount of sales as Walmart switches to product coming from it’s own production facility.

Certainly there is enough blame to go around, but everyone is ignoring the fact that the real reason behind almost all of the money difficulties dairy farmers are having is over production. They are producing more product than the market really wants, which is pushing prices down lower and lower.

There are various marketing boards, government agencies and others trying to help the situation, but almost all of them are focusing on one thing, trying to increase sales of a product that increasingly people don’t really want, and shouldn’t be eating much of. At at time when a recent study just found that 75% of the people in this area are overweight, we have government agencies and marketing boards trying to convince food makers to shovel ever more cheese into their products.

Seventy-five percent. Think about that for a moment. We are facing a national health crisis due to people eating too much of what is bad for them, with government agencies and others trying to figure out how to help people get their weight under control, and at the same time other government agencies and marketing specialists are trying to get food manufacturers to drastically increase the amount of cheese they use in their products.

 

There is More on the Dairy Farm Story

I mentioned previously that a short time ago Grassland Dairy Products here in Wisconsin, which makes mostly butter, sent out letters to 75 dairy farmers telling them that as of May 1 Grassland would no longer be buying their milk. This left those farmers in a terrible situation. They now have no place to sell their milk. And the way the market is right now, finding a new processor to sell to is almost impossible.

In it’s press releases and comments to the media Grassland blames Canada. Canada, according to Grassland, changed their dairy import policies almost literally overnight, making it impossible for Grassland to continue to sell almost a million pounds a day of ultra-filtered milk, used in cheese making, to Canada. According to some of the information that came from the company, they received only two days notice before the change was implemented. The company had no choice but to cut back on the amount of milk it purchases. Grassland claims that it cut off those farmers that the company felt would have the best chance of finding a new market for their milk elsewhere.

But some people started to do some digging, and as is often the case, what’s been coming out in the press releases and statements from the company seems to have some problems. I ran into an op-ed piece over at Wisconsin Agriculturist that points out numerous problems with the whole story as it’s being presented by Grassland, and if true, there is a lot more going on here. You can read it here.

First of all, allegedly Grassland was not blind sided by this as they seem to be claiming. This didn’t happen overnight as the press releases seem to claim. This has been in the works by Canada for a long time. Grassland allegedly knew about this back in November already, and may have known as much as two years ago according to the editorial piece. Governor Walker actually wrote a column about it back in November.

Then there is the issue of which farms they cut off. The company claims it picked farms that it believed would best be able to find markets for their milk. But almost all of the farms being cut off are the ones that are the farthest away from the company’s processing facility in Clark County. Cutting off the farms that are the farthest away from their processing center would save the company a small fortune on shipping costs.

There there is this little tidbit: At the same time the company is cutting off 75 dairy farms, it is trying to get the permits to build it’s own 5,000 cow company owned mega-farm.

There’s no doubt that the company lost significant sales of product to Canada, but there seems to be a lot more going on here than just a trade squabble with Canada.