Cooperatives Working Together: Farmers cull cattle to boost milk prices


SALEM, Ohio – For the first time in 40 years, Lee Sudman is not milking cows.

“You’re in a groove. You want to milk and you go out to the barn, but there’re no cows there to milk anymore.”

Since he was 15, Sudman milked his Holsteins on the farm his father started in Auglaize County, Ohio.

Then, Oct. 15, a trailer came and his cows left.

“Their little eyes said, ‘Why me?’ After working to build production all these years, and then to just let them go – to slaughter them…” Sudman, 55, trailed off.

But he knew it was coming and, in fact, volunteered for his herd’s buyout.

The right time. Last spring, Sudman heard about a national voluntary program where farmers would be paid to decrease their milk production or sell their herds.

The goal was to cut the supply of milk, in hopes farmers would see a jump in their slumping milk checks.

Even before the details of the program, Cooperatives Working Together (CWT), were finalized, Sudman knew he would offer a bid.

Sudman’s wife had been recently diagnosed with terminal cancer and he wanted to spend more time with her, not his cows.

For him, he said, the program came at the right time.

But it was still hard packing his 31 cows in a trailer, knowing they would be slaughtered, knowing he would not milk again.

Price jump. Sudman’s cattle are just a handful of the 32,724 cows being slaughtered across the country in CWT’s herd retirement program.

Another 77 farms will voluntarily slash their milk production by an average 17 percent.

By driving down the supply side of the market, CWT anticipates a 23-cent per hundredweight jump in all-milk prices. Regardless of participation, the increase should be in all farmers’ milk checks.

CWT’s overall goal is to pare 1.2 billion pounds of milk, or .7 percent, in 12 months.

Trimming production. Howard Robinson of Oxford, Pa., immediately thought the program was a good idea.

“Any time farmers, especially dairy farmers, can work together to support themselves without the government’s help, it’s a good thing,” he said.

Looking back, he says he’s just sorry he didn’t volunteer to cut more production.

His 50-head herd average is approximately 22,000 pounds. To ensure a production drop, Robinson is culling more cows.

Robinson’s bid of $4.44/cwt for a 10-percent drop in production was accepted and took effect Sept. 30. His production cut, like all accepted bids, is set for 12 months, after which the program will be reassessed.

Farmers involved in both programs won’t be stopped from future dairy production.

“These programs focus on retiring cows, not farmers,” according to the CWT Web site (

Exports. In addition to herd buyouts and reduced production, a third program will pay manufacturers and exporters to sell dairy products to foreign commercial markets.

According to National Milk Producers’ Federation President Jerry Kozak, this export assistance program is next on the agenda.

To meet the group’s goal of removing 1.2 billion pounds of milk, the export program will have to remove an additional 504 million pounds of milk supplies from the domestic market through 2004.

Kozak said CWT will offer economic incentives for the export of cheese and butter.

It is “an effort to strengthen the prices of those commodities, which ultimately has a direct impact on the milk checks of dairy farmers,” he said.

For farmers, by farmers. Producers fund this program.

Thirty-seven member co-ops pledged full participation. Farmers in these co-ops are automatically assessed 5 cents per hundredweight, which goes to CWT.

This change, adding up to approximately $60 million in the next year, will be paid to farmers whose bids were approved for the drop in production or herd retirement.

Collection of the nickel pledge started in July and will continue through June 2004.

The future. As for Lee Sudman, he still has his heifers but says his milking days are over. He wants to stay in agriculture, but he’s not sure where.

“I’m going to sit back, collect myself and go from there.”

* Herd Retirement

      Bids submitted: 2,038

      Bids accepted: 299

      Average accepted bid: $4.00/cwt

      Number of cows retired: 32,734

      Represents 608 million pounds of production

* Reduced Production

      Bids submitted: 514

      Bids accepted: 77

      Average accepted bid: $4.07/cwt

      Average percentage reduction: 17 percent

      Will reduce nation’s milk supply by 88 million pounds over 12 months

Source: Cooperatives Working Together

Get the details

* Cooperatives Working Together

      2101 Wilson Blvd., Suite 400

      Arlington, VA 22201


For general information about CWT, visit

To see other farmers whose bids were accepted for either the herd retirement or reduced production, click on the links at

To read news releases about CWT, visit

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at


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