|Jason Lawhorn milked cows on Dante Carpenter's farm in Russell|
County, Kentucky. (Photo by Bill Estep, Lexington Herald-Leader)
Wednesday, January 02, 2019
As prices and demand drop, and financial pressures grow, dairy farmers increasingly leave the business
The nonprofit Farm Aid says the milk-pricing system is controlled by large dairy corporations and unfairly hurts consumers and small dairy farmers; the organization points out that the number of very large dairy farms has increased in recent years as small farms have been pushed out of the market. "Farm Aid pointed to Walmart’s new Indiana processing plant as a example of large players taking over more of the milk-supply chain. Large companies with processing plants typically would rather deal with a few large farms than many smaller ones," Estep reports. "More than a dozen Kentucky dairy farms lost their sales contracts in 2018 when Walmart decided to build its own processing plant in Indiana and stop buying processed milk from Dean Foods, which in turn announced it would close a plant in Louisville."
Dairy farmers can get USDA relief payments as part of the larger package aid authorized to help producers hurt by the trade war, but the National Milk Producers Federation says the payments are "less than we had hoped for."
Many farmers just can't weather the storm. In a grim op-ed for The Washington Post, organic dairy farmer Jim Goodman writes that he sold his Wisconsin herd this summer after 40 years of milking: "My retirement was mostly voluntary; premature, but there is some solace in having a choice. Unlike many dairy farmers, I didn’t retire bankrupt. But for my wife and me, having to sell our herd was a sign — of the economic death, not just of rural America, but also of a way of life. It is nothing short of heartbreaking to walk through our barn and know that those stalls will remain empty. Knowing that our losses reflect the greater damage inflicted on entire regions is worse."