Some say stabilization plan necessary to limit volatility, increase prices.
WOOSTER, Ohio — Dairy farmers from northeastern Ohio gathered Oct. 30 at the Ohio Holstein Association office in Wooster, Ohio, where they told their state and federal legislators some of the things that need done to save their industry.
Struggling with on-farm milk prices that are half what they were a year or two ago, and well below the cost of production, dairy farmers and allied industries aired their disgust and their willingness to work with the nation’s Senate and House to reach a viable answer.
“Our backs are against the wall, we’ve tapped all of our credit lines, we’ve sold woods and timber off, we’ve done everything possible and the future of this price-turn is really going to be difficult. … it’s past midnight,” said Jim Comp, a dairy farmer from Ashtabula County.
Stan Carmony of northern Wayne County milks between 400-500 head on his farm, which dates back to the late 1800s. The low milk price has him losing about $10,000 a month per 100 cows, a figure he says is being circulated on other dairies and is equally true of his own.
“This is the toughest we’ve ever had it,” he said. “I don’t care how good a businessman you are, there’s just a certain point. …”
His frustration lies largely with major retailers and processors, including Dean Foods and Kraft Foods, which recorded record profits in a year that saw farmers suffer near-record lows — some filing bankruptcy and leaving the industry.
Keith Lowe, owner of Lowe Nutrition of Homerville, Ohio, gave a first-hand account of what it’s like to work with dairymen for 30-plus years, and see them struggle to make it through the end of the year.
“It’s just very, very hard to walk out on these farms that I’ve worked with for 25-30 years and see them giving up their equity just to be able to go to the barn twice a day to lose more money every day, to try to feed our nation,” he said.
The meeting also was attended by U.S. Rep. John Boccieri, D-Alliance, representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and OSU Extension Dairy Specialist Dianne Shoemaker, and Wayne County Commissioner Ann Obrecht, who both run dairies.
Boccieri came with numbers that showed the importance of dairies in Ohio, especially Wayne County, which leads the state in dairy production.
He asked whether current government support is helping, including the Oct. 21 announcement to spend $60 million for purchasing dairy products from the market, and another $290 million in direct support to farmers.
“This is very important to my district and I want to know if this money and these programs are helping our local folks,” he said.
Farmers told him they’d rather have their “antiquated” system of milk marketing fixed, than more handouts from the government.
But if money is going to be handed out, then it should be done as soon as possible, to get surplus product off the market and get the money in the hands of the hurting, explained Canal Fulton dairy farmer Frank Burkett III.
Burkett and his three uncles milk about 450 head. He said he’d prefer all the money be used for buying surplus product, because it gives everyone in the industry an equitable benefit, but if it’s to have any benefit, the money needs to be paid soon, he said.
John Douglass, who operates Catalpadale Dairy in Marshallville, Ohio, told legislators he’s upset with the discrepancy between the marketed price of dairy products, and the price farmers actually receive.
“I’m not happy that your department of labor came out with consumer price index numbers the last three months … dairy product prices are down 9 percent, ours are down 50 percent,” he said.
“It’s not fair, something needs to be done with the retail price to make it fair to producers and consumers.”
The group cited several probable causes to the price collapse — a crash in world trade and demand, imported milk and milk-related products, increased cost of production and monopolization of buyer co-ops and milk processors.
Back to Washington
Boccieri said he would take key action points back to Washington and continue to work with the farmers and their pursuits. Legislators commended dairymen for the options they’re considering and encouraged them to push toward a unified vision.
“You are so scary and effective if you come to us with one voice,” said Beth Thames, deputy state director for Senator Brown.
(Reporter Chris Kick can be reached at 330-464-4046, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)