Farmers call for pricing change as dairy crisis hits home

The ongoing dairy crisis hitting producers nationwide is putting financial strain on Wisconsin farmers, leading some to push for alternative pricing models.

“We are feeling an incredible pinch,” said Sarah Lloyd, a dairy farmer and special projects coordinator with the Wisconsin Farmers Union. “It’s difficult to be viable as a business.”

She took part in a recent conference call with reporters, highlighting how farmers in Wisconsin and across the nation are feeling the strain of low prices.

Lloyd’s third-generation family farm is in Wisconsin Dells, where she and her family milk 350 cows conventionally.

“Because of this long low-price period, the short-term operating loans we took out last year have now been converted into long-term 20-year notes,” she said. “People need to shift operating loans, used to buy seed, input… How long can farmers hang on with that increasing indebtedness?”

In Wisconsin, the Farmers Union estimates the state is losing 1.5 farms per day, Lloyd says, due to the financial burden of trying to stay afloat.

Ed Maltby, executive director of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Association, says “we are seeing a lot of hardship — especially among younger farmers trying to transition into organic… so too with farms with a lot of debt.”

As American producers are struggling and going out of business, the Canadian model for supply management is seen by the National Family Farm Coalition as a model for what could work in the states.

The Canadian supply management system relies on marketing boards to control the supply of dairy products like milk, eggs and poultry.

Jim Goodman, president of the National Family Farm Coalition and an organic dairy farmer from Wonewoc, says enacting a similar system in the United States is the best move for American dairy farmers.

“I think it could work,” he said. “Serious times call for serious measures.”

Maltby agreed, saying the United States is “well geared to adopt supply management.”

Goodman has been in the business for the past 40 years — long enough to see history repeat itself.

“Now, as we saw in the 80s, the problem with conventional production is too much is being produced,” he said.

He noted that the impact of losing small farms on rural communities can be devastating, as the tax base shrinks with fewer and fewer farmers.

Goodman also said several actions can be taken immediately to take the pressure off of farmers.

In the conventional sector, Goodman says setting a floor price for milk would keep many farmers from going out of business. He says the U.S. DepArtment of Agriculture and Congress should hold hearings to discuss the current national milk pricing formula, and readjust it to be more fair to farmers.

–By Alex Moe