Dairy farmers deserve our respect, gratitude

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Spring has finally arrived. Flowers are blooming in an array of beautiful colors, birds are chirping, grass is growing, and soon the cows will be grazing on pastures.

While lying in bed last week, when I should have been sleeping, I was thinking of how things have changed and wondering what the future of agriculture will be.

Recently I had a friend share with me that they paid less than $2 a gallon for milk in the store. My thoughts immediately; as a producer we don’t even get $2 per gallon.

This then led to a very good discussion with her that made me realize how removed the general population is from the industry. Dairy farming is an extremely difficult profession right now, which is why you see many farms going out of business.

I was born and raised on a dairy farm, and currently live on an active dairy farm today. I say this to help give credibility to some of the statements that I may make.

First, I would like to recognize that farming is a choice. Farmers chose this as their career, just as those that choose the military, or being a surgeon, etc. With that comes the good and the bad, and none of us should expect pity or special treatment for our choices.

Dairy farming is 24/7, no benefits, no holidays, no sick days and no vacation days. The cows need to be milked and fed whether there is a flood, tornado, or blizzard with below zero temps.

The market is extremely volatile and you are always at the mercy of Mother Nature. However, farming is not just a career, it is a way of life.

A farmer’s voice

I would like to include some excerpts from an article written by a farmer in Wisconsin, I am a proud dairy farmer:

“Yes, I am a dairy farmer. It’s my job, my life, my career, my religion, my passion, my home all rolled into one.

Most people are too busy to get to the basics of life, too busy trying to get rich quick. I get to deal with the basics of life every single day: birth, death, soil, sun, growth, mud, storms, calm, parched, wet, and, above all, stress.

I tend a herd of dairy cows that produce what evolution has chosen as the most naturally nutritious food for the most developed animals in the food chain — people.

Evolution took thousands of years of trial and error, millions of genetic events to decide that milk is it. Its nutritional value puts milk above coffee, energy drinks, beer or soda. Milk is it!

Today the American farmer feeds 144 people every day. Fifty years ago, each farmer fed 22 people. We’ve come a long way. The American farmer is expected to feed, fuel, and clothe the world, take all the risk with no guarantee of receiving fair compensation for their hard work.

One hundred percent of the people on this planet eat food. Where do they think this food comes from? Not from the store, it’s from a farm. Yet, the farmer is the least appreciated person on earth.

Not many people become famous for milking cows, but a lot of famous people couldn’t do what we farmers do. Professional athletes make tens of millions of dollars per year and contribute little to society.

The world population is growing. Where is their food going to come from when more farmers are getting out? The average age of the American farmer today is the oldest in this country’s history.

Dairy farmers work extremely hard just to survive. What industry works for less than minimum wage, puts in hours well beyond the traditional eight-hour work day, seven days a week, with no overtime pay, no benefits of any kind, and no retirement fund? How many?

Farmers have no control on the price we receive for our products; we have to take what the processor gives us. Is that fair? We do it because we have passion for the land and what we do.”

I believe this summarizes how many dairy farmers feel. The joy of seeing the success of a bumper crop, of watching that new baby calf buck around in their pen, or the smell of the freshly mowed alfalfa, that’s what keeps them going.

Understanding

They only ask for respect and understanding. Realize that the spreading of manure is a necessity for all livestock operations. This is a natural fertilizer and must be applied at certain times and on specific conditions as to ensure proper water quality.

As we continue to move forward, please educate yourself of the importance of agriculture to the state of Ohio.

According to dairy facts provided by the American Dairy Association, the dairy industry alone contributes an average of $2.35 billion annually to Ohio, which generates more than 14,400 jobs.

Current milk prices parallel what they received in the early ’90s, however, the inputs and costs for utilities, feed, labor, vet bills, and on and on are not at a level equal to those of the 1990s.

The global economy fuels a large portion of our pricing. Foreign trade agreements deeply affect the price of milk for our American producers and determine at times if they can remain in business or not.

The current milk price of around $13 to $15 per hundredweight equates to the farmer getting $1.20 per gallon of milk produced, before expenses. Most are losing money and struggling to survive let alone support their families.

It’s not a career that the next generation jumps to want to do. What will happen if our producers continue to go out of business and the next generation doesn’t carry on the farming tradition?

This will have a huge negative effect on our ways of life, food, and most importantly our jobs and economy.

So the next time you want to complain about the odor from a farm or the inconvenience of having to follow farm equipment up the road; stop and think about the fact that this is their job and livelihood and that you benefit tremendously.

If you want to continue to have cheap food, clean water, and milk that is not imported from another country then you will need to develop respect and appreciation for the American farmer.

Their voices are few, and their time is limited. If you have questions or concerns, go to the producers directly. Farmers love to share their passion, they simply don’t have a lot of time to get out.

It is a very real concern that dairies will continue to decline, especially small family farms. Very few young people want to start up their own dairy farm, and the reality is that they could never afford to do it on their own.

On the other hand, children of dairy farmers should not be expected to continue operating the family dairy. So how can we keep the dairy industry thriving and viable? What can you do?

Pause and think

Society takes time to send thank you’s or show appreciation by tipping those that do our hair, give massages, serve us at a restaurant, deliver our paper, but have you ever once thanked a farmer for protecting our valuable resources and providing beautiful scenic crops and animals grazing on a hilltop, or for providing an abundant, safe food source?

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