SALEM, Ohio — To dump or not to dump? That is the question many farmers will be asking themselves July 4.
Dairy farmers across the nation are organizing a dump of one day’s milk production, hoping to draw national attention to low milk prices. The question is how many farmers will take part and how many does it take to be considered successful?
The movement began in Wisconsin by two dairymen, Don Moose and Steve Siverling. Siverling said it is time for farmers to unite and stand up for themselves.
“I don’t know what people consider a disaster, but certain groups of people or certain areas get disaster relief all of the time,” said Siverling. “Milk prices are more than a disaster — they’re a disgrace.”
Moose and Siverling have reached out to many dairy farmers and dairy organizations, and they believe there is more support for the milk dump than people realize.
Ohio dairymen Toby Heiss and Earl Schaad of Washington County are planning to take part in the dump. Heiss of Lowell, Ohio, milks 44 Holsteins and will dump about 2,000 pounds of milk.
Although the National Farmers Organization is not organizing the dump and has no official position on the matter, Rick Hein, NFO’s head of dairy operations for eastern Ohio and western Pa., says the organization was contacted by the Wisconsin faction and agreed to let its producers know about the strike.
“We support anyone who is trying to bring recognition to the problem,” said Hein. “We need some of the fire that the Wisconsin crew has in their bellies. We’ve lost some of that. We hope they are successful.”
Heiss has distributed fliers and done much networking with local farmers. He is optimistic that at least 20 percent of dairy farmers nationally will strike July 4.
“Many people say they can’t afford to dump a day’s worth of milk. I say we can’t afford not to,” said Heiss. “I don’t have any debt. I don’t know how any dairyman with debt can make it in this industry. They must be living on nothing.”
“Our education system has let us down. Most of the American people don’t even know where their milk and food comes from. They may be more sympathetic to our cause if they knew.”
Schaad of Waterford, Ohio, milks 250 head and will dump his milk into his manure pit. He feels the strike is long overdue.
“When the general public is eating as well it does and the farmer is starving, then there’s a problem,” said Schaad. “We can’t keep going at these bankrupt prices.”
Though Schaad would like to see more public and legislative help with the dairy industry, he places the success of this dump on the farmers. He says they need the support of some of the large dairy cooperatives, but most of all, he wants farmers across the nation to unite.
“Farmers have the power. However, farmers are not united, therefore that power is fragile,” said Schaad. “We have to make a visible statement. We have to get attention.”
Christopher Galen with the National Milk Producers Federation says it will be hard to get and hold the public’s attention.
“Gas prices are the top stories right now. People are outraged at the high prices,” said Galen. “Not too many people will be concerned with paying low milk prices in the stores. No one ever asks to pay higher prices for products.”
He said the dump will build some attention. “It is a drop in the bucket, but they need to start somewhere,” he said.
Echoing Galen’s statements, Cam Thraen, Ohio State University ag economist, says there will be too many people barbecuing and celebrating the Fourth of July holiday to worry about a milk dump.
Moreover, he says the dump signals deep frustration on the part of the dairy farmer, but he believes prices are now normal after being very high for two or three years.
“The dairy industry showed historically high incomes for the past two or three years, and this year prices have dropped to a normal level,” said Thraen. “Prices are lower and production is slightly higher, but grain prices are also low, so the margin is there.”
Wisconsin’s Steve Siverling disagrees. He says if prices aren’t changed soon, many of his colleagues “will fold by the time the first snow flies.”
Striking dairy farmers are seeking three major changes. Farmers would like to see a $13.50 emergency Class III floor price by Aug. 1.
“That price won’t save everyone, but it will stop some of the bleeding,” said Siverling.
Second, farmers would like a government-mandated supply management system operable as of January 2001 to include USDA cost of production.
“USDA issues an average cost of production for all dairy farmers, and we would like that number factored into the equation. Farmers in Canada are getting almost $18 per hundredweight because their supply management system works so well,” said Siverling.
Farmers would also like to see a variable make allowance for all processors nationwide. Siverling said this would put some of the accountability back on the processors.
Siverling said the July 4 dump will show whether or not farmers across the nation have the strength and courage to stand up for themselves. He has received local and national support.
“I have had more people calling me about this than I ever thought possible. Farmers are tired of putting their lives in the hands of other people,” said Siverling. “We are trying to work with the most bureaucratic system in the world. The dairy industry has to be saved by the farmers. After that, we’ll concentrate on the rest of rural America.”