My husband started this farm just eight short years ago. While he was just getting started, many families were exiting, and many more have left since then. In fact, half of our herd was purchased from a family that was selling it cows. My husband said it was the hardest thing he had to do, purchasing the cows as the family was standing by. I can’t even imagine what they were going through.
You see, in 2009, when he started it was record low milk prices and incredibly high feed costs. He was behind before he even got started.
We started dating a few months after he started the farm. I remember going to visit to help and often found him twice a month just trembling trying to figure out how to pay the bills. He was completely exhausted, only surviving on a few hours of sleep and his desire to live his lifelong dream. I couldn’t believe that this is how the men and women who grow/raise our food lived. I felt completely helpless. I began learning as many tasks on the farm as possible, including the books to help take a load off.
We have come a long way in the past eight years, but I can’t help but wonder if there truly is a future for us in this industry.
In the past eight years, we have watched many amazing dairy farm families call it quits — for many reasons such as milk prices, the truck route to their farm being shut down, retirement, death, etc. No matter the reason, it is still hard to see this happening. The most recent events leading to many family farms not knowing if they will have a farm this next week has been heavy on my heart and mind. Combine this with the current prediction that in the next 20 years we will have half the U.S. dairy farms that we do today, one can’t help but be very concerned.
Over the years I have had it pounded in my head by my fellow dairy farmers that this is just how it is and has always been. You struggle for several years and then if you are lucky you get one good year to get back on your feet. When milk prices go down, you make more milk to compensate for the price drop. When milk prices go up, you pay off the debt you created when milk prices were down. Sounds like the perfect system, right?!
The most recent events within our industry have brought to light a very clear division between small and large farms. The fiasco in Wisconsin has farmers across this great nation scared. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t one of them. With fear comes division, blame, and anger. I wholeheartedly believe that we can fix this, that we can make it so farms of all shapes and sizes can thrive, but we cannot do so divided. So instead of blaming our neighbors up North or praying that the 45th will come through for us, maybe it’s time we come together as dairy farmers, dig deep to the root of the issue and solve this ourselves?
Krista Stauffer is a wife, mother of three, and first-generation millennial dairy farmer. Krista works side by side with her husband and kids on their 140-cow dairy.