Dairy exodus: Ohio has lost 172 dairy farms in 12 months

empty dairy barn
More than 170 Ohio dairy farms have stopped milking cows since October 2017. More will follow.

Commentary by Dianne Shoemaker/ OSU Extension Field Specialist

Since June 25, 66 more Ohio dairy farms have ceased milking cows. In three months, 3 percent of Ohio’s dairy herds are gone.

Since October 2017 — when there were 2,312 operating, licensed dairy farms in Ohio — 172 farms have quit milking, a decline of 7.4 percent of dairy farms in one year.

On Sept. 25, 2018, Ohio had 1,745 Grade A farms and 395 Grade M (Manufacturing Grade) farms, totaling 2,140 operating dairy farms.

Sadly, these numbers will continue to rise, as too many years of poor milk prices and unpredictable markets for milk, cull cows, breeding stock, and feed take their toll.

Never easy decision

As the industry faced a third year of poor prices, it is not surprising that more and more farms wisely chose to preserve hard-earned equity after cash reserves ran out.

That may seem a logical and straightforward decision when described in black and white text on a page. However, it does not begin to describe the challenge and heartache involved in making that decision by 172 farm families in the last year.

Many more farm families will consider the same decision over the next 12 months.

These families have invested lifetimes and dollars developing breeding stock and facilities to raise and care for their animals and crops. Lives have been centered around caring for cows, calves, and heifers. Life schedules were built around the needs of cows, calves and crops.

These lives are now dominated by questions:

  • Will prices turn around?
  • When will prices turn around? Surely, they can’t stay this low for much longer?
  • What more can we cut?
  • Why is this happening, not only in Ohio, but across the country?

Too much milk

I usually love numbers, but these numbers break my heart.

We simply have too many cows. The USDA/NASS August Milk Production Report showed there were still around 9.4 million dairy cows in the United States. Just like nothing good happens when teenagers are out after midnight, nothing good happens when there are more than 9 million cows making a reasonable amount of milk.

Backing up those cow numbers is a large replacement heifer herd.

The dairy industry has done a fabulous job exporting dairy products, and exports are critical in supporting the price received by US farmers. The current trade war and re-negotiation of NAFTA and other trade agreements have added even more uncertainty to volatile markets and dampened any hope for Class III milk prices much above $16 per hundredweight in the foreseeable future, if we even hit $16.

Through August, the 2018 Class III milk price averaged $14.44. Class III averaged $16.17 in 2017, following a poor $14.90 in 2016.

Compounding the ongoing uncertainty is the loss of most quality premiums offered by processors to attract and retain quality milk supplies. Add to that the unprecedented and increasing incidents of processors pink-slipping farms across the country.

Families are having difficult discussions and making wrenching decisions. Their decisions do not affect just themselves.

For every milk pump that is shut down after the last milking, there are employees that have to find another job, there is one less customer for a veterinary practice, a nutritionist, a feed mill, a custom harvester, a dairy supply business, a fuel supplier, a local elevator, a builder, an equipment company.

Each farm lost impacts a community.

Complicating the decision about when to sell a herd is the value of breeding stock today. The current market value of quality breeding animals is easily half of what it was a year ago. That alone is bleeding equity from balance sheets.

While it should improve over time, it makes finding a decent market for non-cull cows difficult, if not impossible, for exiting farms.

What’s best

Families have to make the best decision for the family. They can milk cows until there is nothing left and someone else makes the decision for them. The smart families take a hard look at the whole picture and make decisions while they still have choices.

It can be very hard to see what life will be after the lights are turned out in the milk house for the last time, but farmers tend to underestimate the variety of skills and abilities that they have to offer to an employer or apply to the next venture.

More than 172 Ohio farms have pushed the numbers and decided to stop milking cows. It is not over.

My heart breaks.

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  1. This not only applies to dairy, but ALL farms. The ‘get big or get out’ crap pushed by AG professors, along with the monopolization of food processors, as well as extreme government over-regulation is destroying rural communities. The farmers who do go along with that ‘get big’ mindset are inadvertently harming their fellow farmers by over-producing AG products. Reporters fail to mention the REAL reason of the exodus of farmers. Years ago, small, local dairy processing plants had their ‘own’ local producers and worked with them for planned approximate production via bonuses, premiums, and field reps worked with farmers regarding production goals. Government regulations make it difficult for small processors to stay in business. Huge processing industries have bought up most of these small processors, keeping their local names to keep loyal customers. They have forced farms to join with marketing companies, which control production and impose unconstitutional regulations. These huge processors and marketers are making $BILLIONS at the expense of farmers. Tragic-yes…but lets report the REAL reason prices are absurdly low for ALL farmers-the dairy industry can very easily be used to show just why farmers are being destroyed. Sadly, on top of the milk processors becoming monopolized, the beef industry is becoming monopolized-thus controlling the price dairies get for the beef their cull cows produce…a double whammy…it will take true starvation the likes of which have not been seen since the 1930s to wake-up people into how fortunate they have been to have had the most abundant, safest, and affordable food in the entire history of mankind-and at the expense of countless farmers.

    • I believe everything you said is true. Not that it helps the issue overall, but I buy directly from small farms for milk, beef, and pork.

  2. Come on …..really
    Poor farmer they wont have jobs ….
    At no time did you say Poor Cows they have been living the worst life , STOLEN BABIES, RAPE and MURDER
    Farmers can easily find another jobs
    Mother Cows will never see the stolen babies
    Baby calves will never see mom againg or get a chance to play .

    • Actually they do see mom again. We only breed cows in standing heat so they are fertile and quite receptive. We humanely euthanize animals at the time of slaughter. We actually honor their sacrifices so we can thrive. Earth’s ecosystem depends on herbivore and carnivore together.

    • Lots of statistical data supporting the nutritional benefits of dairy in a humans diet. BTW an infantile bovine is referred as a calf. I suggest you visit a dairy farm and not base your claims from HSUS nor PETA. You will see that they are falsely accusing dairy farmers.

  3. great comments on what is really causing the problem. it is our government setting everything up so they control it , we the people do not matter to our elected officials. when the government speaks all the monopolies jump and sing the government tune. food prices including milk keep going up so it isn’t the consumer winning in this game, we are losing and our farmers are losing. we need to stop allowing the government to divide us and stand together and vote these new world order politicians out of office and elect people who are honest and have our best interest at heart. we have no business trying to take over the world and having our sons and daughters murdered in needless wars that are meaning less to us. we do not need to go to war to protect other countries borders when we are not protecting our own borders and allowing people to walk in and take our country , the funny thing is our government is protecting the intruders and making us pay all their bills for them. we are following romans foot print exactly. they had the strongest military of their time and let people walk in and take their country, we have the strongest military in the world and we are being forced to allow people to come in and take our country while we provide 100 per cent free health care and housing and food and free education for them yet our farmers and workers at all levels are losing their jobs and possessions to support welfare corporations who are being told what to do by the politicians . stand up America and throw out these politicians who keep appointing judges that support abortions and taking away our Christian rights and bending over backwards to protect all other forms of false religion. let us stand as americans protecting our country and rights and certainly protecting the rights of our unborn children, while allowing other countries to live as they choose and trade with all countries in ways that benefit us and them. we do not have to be one world government and give away our country and its resources to be the world leader, our blessings from God and our hard work and brilliance have created here the greatest country in the world. seventy percent of americans want abortions stopped, it is time to elect politicians who know the constitution says government of the people by the people, and for the people. a woman crossing our border ill legally and having a child here does not constitute citizenship for the child at our expense, being born in a garage does not make the baby a car. the constitution provides a legal way to come here so any one coming here any other way is ill legal. our politicians take away everything we have to give to everyone else, it is time to take away everything they have gained by serving themselves as politicians after we kick them out of office.

  4. My boss is hanging on and I’m thankful. I’ll be 52 this month and I’m too darned old to find another way to make a living.

  5. I swear, if another vegan tries telling me that dairy is bad and humans are the only species that drink milk after infancy, I’m going to lose my mind. Listen Linda, we’re also the only species that drinks peach mango pineapple gluten free smoothies. Let me eat my cheese in peace. Your argument here is invalid. Go back to your dark corner of the web and enjoy your kale.

    That being said, the state of the industry right now is very volatile. I’m a firm believer in capitalism. I believe that if you want to milk 5,000 cows, you go right ahead. At the same time, it’s these large farms that are just ruining the industry for what I like to call the “mom & pop” farm. Even the “smaller” large farms (200+ milking head) are part of the problem. The days of milking 40 head or less as a full time job are long gone. My father owned and operated a one-truck milk hauling business, that he took over from my grandfather, for 37 years… up until last summer when he decided to sell to a larger trucking company. I’ve taken alot of heat in my 33 years about not wanting to take over what was essentially the family business. These last three or so years have made me glad I stuck to my guns. There isn’t much milk left to haul around here.

  6. I really enjoy Hilda Landeros’ input on her animal activist agenda. Those few replays on the F and D page is just a small example of why our industry is in turmoil. The unwillingly, uneducated populus along with the producers themselves are slowly but surely knocking one dairy operation off of the map at a time. The activist have taken advantage and are taking over the world’s daily god, social media and are prevailing while the producers that have monopolized the market and are advantage of the “Exudos” situation. The activist still believe we are torturing our beloved cows to make a an essential dietary need, in the mean time the larger producers buy up all the cheap livestock, take advantage of the bulk priced inputs and still receive bonus premiums based on quantity (not quality) of milk when we are in a surplus. Further more, you take all of the different labels, organic, natural, grassfed, nonGMO now you further divided the industry and created further inconfidence in our consumers decreasing consumption all the way around. We sat by and allowed this to happen. Only way we can get this back is to unionize the US dairy industry. Like our dear supporter Hilda has mentioned its time to get a job and start dumping milk but culling our bottoms cows. Time to start boycotting sexed semen, time to start metering our product to the population and the government. Our wholesome product cannot be taken for granted any more, it cannot be used as a mere bargaining tool for our nation’s economy.


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