Tuesday, January 10, 2023

It's not like the Trump years, but Wis dairy farms still going out of business

Times are still tough for Wisconsin dairy farmers. Rick Barrett of Gannett Wisconsin took a look at the situation, and notes that there continues to be fewer dairy farms in Wisconsin, even as milk prices have rebounded from the depths of the 2010s.
There’s been a steady decline over the last decade — with the number of herds down 45% since 2013 — largely from farmers retiring or being forced out in years of low milk prices.

But lately it’s been for another reason: Strong demand for dairy cows, and for beef, has raised cattle prices and made it more attractive to liquidate a herd.

“Some folks view this as a good time to cash out,” said Pete Hardin, publisher of The Milkweed, a dairy industry publication based in Brooklyn, Wisconsin.
So while it may be a “better” reason to get out dairy farming (aka – not going bankrupt), it still creates disruptions, and reduces competition for larger producers, which can cause higher prices for the rest of us.

While the prices that farmers are receiving for their milk have backtracked from their highs, they're still well above what they were getting before 2022.

Even with that boost in revenue, the number of separate Wisconsin dairy herds had its largest decline in the COVID era, as farm assistance subisides dried up and interest rates and land prices rose. But 2022's decline is also well below the losses we saw at the end of the 2010s.

For those farmers sticking with the dairy side, Barrett says that inflation of other types of food as well as higher operational expenses have more than offset the higher prices they’ve received for their products.
Rising costs have also played a role in farm closures. Even as farmers have gotten more for their milk and other products, they’ve been slammed with higher expenses for everything from seed and fertilizer to tractor parts and milk hauling…..

Prices of corn and soybeans, primary ingredients in cattle feed, have doubled in the last year as the war in Ukraine has left a gaping hole in the world’s grain supplies.
Definitely some barriers there from the cost side. But some of this decline could be as simple as some dairy farmers not wanting to put up with all the work and stresses with the life, and they sell the farm and/or cows to another operator, who merges it with a current operation. That was mentioned by "Fabulous Farm Babe" Pam Jahnke, as part of an interview on the As Goes Wisconsin show today. Jahnke's segment starts around 1:32:00 on the podcast.

The demogrpahic challenges add to a dairy farm situation in Wisconsin that is a story of consolidation and other changes in the agricultural economy. That seems to continue the worrying trend of "get big or get out", and that's something that's not helpful to a lot of producers or consumers these days.

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