By Bobbi Wilson, Government Relations Associate for Wisconsin Farmers Union
Dairy Together is a grassroots movement to rebuild a fair, stable, and predictable dairy economy for family farmers and rural communities. This movement emerged in response to the current dairy crisis—we are now in the fifth straight year of low prices, and for many farmers, that has meant losing money and taking on more debt year after year. But for many farmers, the pressures have been insurmountable; in 2018 alone, more than 2,700 U.S dairy farms went out of business.
The downward trend of dairy herds is nothing new, and neither is the phenomenon of milk prices sitting below the cost of production. Indeed, this crisis is just the latest iteration of a persistent problem in agriculture: boom and bust price cycles that force farmers to get big or get out. The result? Fewer and fewer farms of greater and greater size.
What is new about this crisis is the inability for the market to stabilize, despite the loss of 16 percent of dairy farms over the last five years. With the proliferation of mega-dairies in the last two decades, milk supply has continued to outpace demand, keeping prices too low for many small- and medium-sized dairies to compete.
There’s another notable difference this time around – there’s a growing acceptance for supply management, a simple and much-needed tool that balances supply with demand. In doing so, this system can pay farmers a fair price without relying on taxpayer subsidies, maintain a resilient food supply in the face of climate change and global uncertainty, and breathe new life back into rural communities that are dying off as the farms disappear.
Dairy Together was built on the foundation of the unique role that family farms play in our society. What started as a handful of tired and frustrated dairy farmers in rural Wisconsin has grown into a movement of hundreds of farmers and family farm allies from across the country that are pushing for long-term stability in the dairy economy.
We have toured the country presenting sound economic research that makes a compelling case for supply management. We’ve seen media coverage shift from focusing solely on the loss of farms to examining supply management as a real and viable solution to the problem. And we’re seeing farmers and organizations that would have written off supply management four years ago now on board or seriously considering it.
There is still a lot of work to do, but we are encouraged by the momentum building for supply management in the countryside, and the recognition that we need to base farm policy on profitability for farmers of all sizes. Check outwww.dairytogether.com for resources and ways to get involved.