The rest of the milk price story

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“Ah, bliss. We will find it, perhaps, in our dreams. Or perhaps when we reach the pearly gates, but don’t count on finding it in this lifetime. There’s just always, always a fly in the ointment.”

– Phyllis Diller

The life of a dairy farmer is a life of grueling work in every element, a life of curve balls and hard knocks if ever there was one. “Dairy Farmers Get a Raise,” was the headline I had read not too long ago, and felt there was certainly good reason to celebrate that bit of news, so long overdue.

Check it out. So, at this past weekend’s wedding and reception of my nephew Scott Harpster, I was eager to hear how rich my sister and all of her in-laws were now going to be.

With the outdoor reception held at my sister and brother-in-law’s home farm, I looked around for pearls and glittering diamonds, for expensive new toys in the machinery shed, but I didn’t see any signs of impending upscale living.

Amidst the singing and dancing, laughter and tears, toasts and traditions, talk did turn to such things as “producer price differential” and the bottom line: The amount of this month’s milk check.

Danny Harpster said that when he opened the milk check that the three brothers had been looking forward to seeing, “My heart sank to my stomach.”

With the press grabbing on to the fact that milk prices were rising, area farmers were breathing a huge sigh of relief.

“We all thought, ‘Well, it’s about time,'” my brother-in-law Dave Harpster said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

With enormous spring operating expenses, the projected increase was something the farm could certainly put to good use.

Not so fast. But, when Dan Harpster opened that check recently, it was for several thousand dollars less than they had projected it would be.

Like everything else, it is a complicated set of circumstances that explains the much shorter check than the farm had anticipated, but in part, it is due to the Class I price mover which is established ahead, and it’s going to take a while for the increase to show up in dairy farmer’s checks, and by the time it does, the price may well be coming down again or other adjustments may need to be made due to price differentials.

“It is probably far too complicated for me to explain to you,” Danny Harpster told me, “It takes a genius to figure all of this out. But, bottom line, it’s politics and paperwork. And it is all stuff that the farmer has absolutely no control over.”

Once again, the farmer waits for what he’s worked so hard to earn. The only profession in the world that is forced to buy retail and sell wholesale is at the mercy of Washington red tape.

The rest of the story. The price of a gallon of milk in the grocery store reflects only a small portion of the story. The farmer is certainly not getting that amount for a gallon of milk, and the grocer is not profiting, either.

There are many middle men in the picture, some of whom might get a bonus check at Christmas this year.

The dairy farmer will keep on working hard, seven days a week. And my best advice? Don’t ask him about a Christmas bonus.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

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