Surviving the dairy crisis may mean changes to operation

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SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Perseverance, heart, soul, patience and optimism.
These are the traits a dairy farmer has had to develop in order to make it through the past several months of low milk prices. Or what many of them say they had to develop in order to survive. Area milk producers attended an open house and dairy tour of the Grassycrest Farm owned by the Kind family in Slippery Rock, Pa. The event was put on by the Center for Dairy Excellence.
The producers walked through the facilities, taking notes of what they were seeing and thinking about ways to implement some of the management ideas on their own farms.
Some were interested in the new herringbone parlor and others were interested in the feed supply for the cattle herd.

Milk prices

But the one thing everyone was discussing was the low milk prices and how long they can last.
Dwight Kind, a partner in the Kind Dairy farm with his mom and dad, Dick and Blanche, and his brother Dean, summed up the state of milk prices in one sentiment.
“It has to come up,” Kind said. “It’s going up cents, but it ought to be going up dollars.”
Kind added their operation is trying to remain stable by being satisfied with paying bills and not making any new purchases.

Unknown future

Dan Woods of Edinboro, Pa., milks a herd of 130 Holsteins, but wonders when the tidal wave of prices will be just too much for his farm to handle.
“It’s been rugged,” Woods said as he talked about this year’s milk prices. “If it goes much longer, I don’t know what is going to happen.”
Woods added the milk checks have been a struggle. He said he is being paid half of what he received a year ago and the milk income is barely enough to cover feed prices. It doesn’t cover the cost of labor and other expenses.

No cattle sales

Steve Paxton, co-owner of Irish Town Acres farm in Grove City, Pa., has a herd of 500 Jersey cattle and has been battling the low milk prices as well.
“I think we’ve hit the bottom (low milk prices),” Paxton said.
He added there will be no profit on his farm or many others this year.
“We are going to weather it, but it’s been tough,” he said.
Paxton said the slowed economy has stopped many dairy farmers from developing their herds and, in return, he has not sold the amount of cattle he has in the past.
So far this year, Paxton said he has sold only eight head.
“Nobody is buying,” Paxton continued.
That means his own herd has grown this year, which he wasn’t planning, triggering higher feed costs for the farm. Fortunately, he had expanded the barn last year, and that has helped him house the extra cattle this year.
The Jersey producer added his farm was actually able to set aside some savings in 2008 and that has helped the farm survive the economic storm.

Low exports

John Frey, executive director for the Center for Dairy Excellence, talked to the open house group about low milk prices.
One of the reasons for the low milk prices is the reduction in the amount of milk exported in the past six months.
“Right now, we have an imbalance of supply and demand,” Frey said.
Frey had many words of wisdom for the dairy producers, and encouraged them to be optimistic, because the future shows more food will be needed in the world and food production will have to expand.

Cutting back

Bill Coulder, a Holstein producer from Grove City, Pa., added he is not sure how long many producers will be able to endure the low milk prices. He said his facility has cut every expense it can, but he’s worried about what the consequences could be as many farms do the same.
“We are going back to two times a day. We were milking three times a day, but we have to find a way to cut back,” Coulder said.
One of the common threads among all the dairy producers at the open house was the hope that prices will rebound and they will be able to run their business efficiently.

About the Author

Kristy Foster Seachrist lives in Columbiana County raising sheep and horses. She earned her degree from Youngstown State University and has worked in both print and broadcast journalism. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/fosterk96. More Stories by Kristy Foster Seachrist

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