WOOSTER, Ohio — Dairy farmers from some of the top dairy producing counties in Ohio had a chance to air concerns with one of the state’s highest elected officials on Sept. 1.
U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) heard from dairymen in Wayne, Holmes and Geauga counties at a roundtable conference held at the Shisler Center at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.
Each producer spoke his mind about the challenges he faces — many concerned about the same things — the volatile milk market, a poor pricing system, environmental legislation, world trade and demand and passing the farm onto the next generation.
Last year, dairy farmers in Ohio took on roughly $1,000 debt per cow, said Dianne Shoemaker, an OSU Extension dairy specialist from Wayne County.
Ann Obrecht, commissioner from the same county, said the only thing she’s seen work well is the Cooperatives Working Together program — a non-governmental, producer-run cooperative that reduces the nation’s dairy herd numbers through scheduled buyouts.
She told Brown she’d like to see all farmers participate, but was unsure the best way to make it happen. She also expressed concern with free trade agreements, which need implemented before other countries implement their own.
“If we don’t implement those free trade agreements before Canada implements theirs, or before South America implements theirs, we’re going to lose a lot of market shares,” she said.
Ron Michalovich, a dairyman from Holmes County whose family raises Brown Swiss, asked the senator to be cautious of imports into the United States, and the risk they can pose to our own supply.
“I think we could drag our whole industry down with a couple of bad scares,” he said, from actions not even controlled or effected by our own country.
He said his own experience as a dairy farmer has been rewarding, living the “american dream,” but not without a lot of hard work and careful planning every step of the way.
Tom Noyes, a retired OSU Extension worker who still milks a herd of Jersey cattle, said “every producer in this country needs to vote” when a policy is being decided, not just the cooperatives, which often use bloc voting to speak on behalf of many independent producers, who may not always have a fair say.
As world population continues to grow, with some predictions it could double by 2050, Noyes said the world needs to know it can count on producers.
“We need to have the world know that we will be a consistent dairy supplier,” he said.
World message. And, the world needs to know dairy is a safe, high quality product, capable of being produced by different types and sizes of farms, said Geauga County dairy farmer Charles Lausin.
“We in agriculture can’t pit one size farm against another,” he said.
Lausin was less kind about conceptions that dairy and farming is to blame for obesity, and changes in the environment.
“I don’t think that milk at 2 percent (milk fat) is going to contribute a hell of a lot to obesity,” he said,
On the environment, he said farmers need trucks and tractors for the work they do, and policy that vows to tax farmers for these things “scares the hell out of me. … We in agriculture are not polluting our food supply, we’re not wasting our natural resources,” he insisted.
Several pieces of legislation have been introduced, including the Dairy Price Stabilization Act, and recently, some changes have been approved in committees to implement electronic dairy price reporting, and in a more timely manner.
Restrictive supply concerns
John Douglas, who operates the largest dairy in the county, said programs that restrict supply of dairy products could negatively affect the country’s ability to meet world markets, especially with the expected growth in population and demand.
“Restrictive supply is not going to get that done,” he told the senator.
Brown, himself a farm boy originally from Lexington, Ohio, said the biggest take-home message for him is the need for transparency of dairy prices, predictability of pricing and a better understanding of how dairy pricing is done.
Not everything in dairy can be predicted, he said, but there needs to be more certainty than there is now.
“Dairy farmers — they want something like investors and businesses — they want to be able to predict what business will look like a year from now, as much as possible,” he said.