The ongoing drought has permanently impacted lives and livelihoods on dairy farms across the country. Not only have dairy farmers battled difficult climate conditions, the drought has come on the heels of severe economic downturn. Many farmers are left with decreased equity, lower yields and no reserves.
Yet they keep on going.
Ninety-eight percent of dairy farms are family-owned and these families have always been dedicated to providing affordable, safe and healthy food for America and the rest of the world – all while minimizing their impact on the environment, ensuring proper care for their animals and sustaining contributions to their local economies.
But this feat is becoming increasingly difficult. Like all Americans, they are also dealing with higher costs of living and doing business, and their margins stay the same regardless of increases in consumer prices. In turn, they are earning less for the milk than the actual cost to produce it.
Despite these circumstances, there is hope. Dairy farmers are staying committed to their farms, collaborating with fellow farmers, implementing innovative solutions, and remaining resilient in the face of such extreme conditions.
Here are just a few of their stories:
Brenda and Lad Hasting of Burton, Ohio are doing everything they can to ensure the welfare of their cows noting that they will not compromise the well-being of their cows, no matter how much havoc the drought wreaks on our farm’s economic outlook. They are third-generation dairy farmers and their cows have been – and always will be – their No. 1 priority. “We don’t skimp on that. Ever. So during this tough time, the business plan has changed to shave costs, not quality.” Lad now drives a four-hour roundtrip a few times each month to pick up feed so they can eliminate the company’s delivery charges. “We do as much as we can ourselves instead of hiring out. Our economics is always top of mind. We run a lean staff. We try to purchase as little as possible. We’re resilient and are doing everything we can to keep standing.”
Lynda Foster of Fort Scott, Kansas still believes there’s a future for dairy. “What’s so scary about this situation is the drought is so widespread that we – and dairy farmers everywhere – are really limited in feed alternatives for our cows. The alternatives that are available have risen in cost at alarming rates. The price of soybean meal has jumped 70 percent over the last nine months in my area. Trying to at least break even financially each month is a goal that isn’t often achieved and it’s forced us to consider refinancing, just to feed our cows. Generally, when we think of refinancing it’s about long-term investments in equipment, housing or expanding the herd, but this is just to get through the day-to-day activities. But the thing that keeps me going is that being a dairy farmer is a labor of love.”
Terry Rowlett of Campbellsburg, Kentucky explains the extreme business measures his fellow dairy farmers are taking, “such as cancelling their health insurance plans, just to have a little extra money to help stay in business. Many of us are in survival mode. As the feed costs are rising, so are the other costs, but my milk check isn’t increasing to keep up with these costs. My sister and I milk 110 cows at our dairy. We usually grow enough corn that will feed our entire herd for one year. This year, we predict we’ll only be able to feed about 75 cows with the silage we grow. Dairy farmers were a close-knit group before the drought, but our bond has strengthened as we lend support and share ideas on how to best manage the trials we all face.”
Farms and the families that own them – among many others – appreciate the understanding of Americans across the country and recognize these are tough times for everyone. One way the consumers can show their support for dairy farmers is by continuing to enjoy and purchase the nutritious dairy products they love. By purchasing dairy, we’re standing up for healthy people, healthy communities, and a healthy planet. That’s Where Good Comes From.