Anxiety building up inside state’s dairy barns

The cries of desperation are getting louder.

They come from the soybean fields and the small hog operations. But lately, many of these pleas for help can be heard from inside dairy barns.

A couple weeks ago a 26-year-old Pine Island farmer posted a 6-minute video on Facebook which went viral. It was video of him arguing with his dad about how to save their 200-cow dairy farm.

Sometimes crying, the young farmer talked about his father telling him that he had less than when he started the business 40 years ago.

The AP story on the video reported that the median income at a dairy farm dropped from about $43,000 last year to less than $15,000. That is well below the poverty level.

Monday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune article on the dairy farm crisis featured a farmer near St. Cloud who confessed to taking $11,000 out of savings to balance his books in 2018.

“I made a nice living on 50 cows until three years ago. It’s getting worse every year,” David Van Drehle was quoted in the article.

The market place now dominated by mega operations is pushing the small farmer out. The Associated Press has reported that 1,100 Minnesota dairy farmers left the industry in the past six years. In an early March Independent agriculture profile, a Lyon County farmer described how he transitioned away from dairy farming in 2016 because he said “the numbers didn’t add up” to continue.

As the numbers continue to look bleak for those farmers struggling to stay in the business, politicians and the dairy industry can help.

On Monday, the Associated Press shared an article on Monday of possible options to help farmers who desire to stay in the dairy business. Some of the proposals include higher prices for milk produced by smaller dairies and imposing a “market access fee” for dairies that want to expand.” The fee revenue would then go to the farms that haven’t expanded.

It would be prudent for U.S. Rep. Colin Peterson, Sen. Tina Smith and Sen. Amy Klobuchar to continue to push for help on the federal level. In Minnesota, members of the Legislature reconvened for the homestretch of the 2019 session. There are a lot of important issues that need to be resolved before the end of the session. However, legislators and the governor need to continue to keep dairy farmers in mind as they head toward that finish line. Yes, they did move quickly to provide loan money and working to encourage speedy payment of insurance money. The Rural Finance Authority is considering providing zero-interest loans to producers for natural disaster recovery.

But not all the solutions have to be handouts or loans. Ways to offer counseling and education opportunities for survival or ways to transition to other agriculture opportunities should be explored as well.

More importantly, don’t ignore those pleas for help.

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