A Response from a Milk Producer

I retrieved this from the comments to my post on the problems facing milk producers:

Here’s my story:
My name is Janice Grimes and my husband Todd and I are dairy farmers in Iowa.

We, like other dairy farmers, are struggling to stay afloat. The price of milk has decreased so much that we went from being able to pay all our bills, to losing about $5000.00 each month. We have cashed in our retirements and life insurance policies. We’ve borrowed more money from the bank to continue operating and I was forced to return to work off the farm. This has left my husband to do all the milking by himself and it has taken a toll on us. We are living from day to day, not sure if we will go bankrupt and lose our farm, our home, and Todd’s parents’ house, which is also part of the farm. Our closest dairy friends are barely hanging on and we lean on each other for moral support. Last week, one of our dairy friends filed for bankruptcy and three other local dairy farms have also been lost due to the crisis. We couldn’t sell out even if we wanted as dairy cows are worth practically nothing at the market.

The USDA has tried to help by instituting the MILC program. However, the MILC rate is based on the Boston Milk price. This is simply a joke. The Boston price is the highest in the country and although an adjustment is made for feed costs, it still only adds about 1000.00 to our income. It is simply not enough to ward off bankruptcy.
The lack of money is now having a trickling down effect and there is loss of income and business to local veterinarians, hoof trimmers, dairy supply stores, feed mills and milk haulers.

I have been doing everything I personally can to bring attention to this crisis and to try and enlist the help of our government officials. I have written to every member of the Senate Agricultural Subcommittee, Secretary Vilsack, members of the newly formed Dairy Caucus and Iowa Governor Chet Culver. I have received little, if any, response.

We had a glimmer of hope when the Senate Ag committee began to hold hearings on the dairy crisis. However, I was very disappointed in the speakers that provided the testimony. Where was the testimony from the dairy farmers? The dairy farmers that did testify were tied to large companies, the Farm Bureau or end processors. I read and heard that cooperatives and processors reported the following:
• There are too many cows producing milk, thus there is an oversupply.
• It’s too late to help the small dairy farmer
• It is better to do nothing now and allow the market to find equilibrium.
• The price support program should be eliminated as it is a burden to everyone

The local dairy farmer is LOSING money every day. However, the price of milk has not decreased that much in the store. We KNOW that someone is making a huge profit and it is NOT US. It has to be the cooperatives or the processors, so why would the very people who are making money be testifying to the ag committee?
We want our voices heard and we want you to know that the testimony pointed out above does not represent us and is not in our best interest. The cooperatives and the processors (creameries) are looking out for themselves at our expense.

We would like the committee (and thus Congress) to adopt the following:
• Double the MILC rate being paid to dairy farmers and make it retroactive to March as suggested by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
• STOP the importation of milk products (milk protein concentrates) from other countries!! If the processors and cooperatives really want us to believe there is an oversupply of milk, then why are they importing it??
• Secretary Vilsack has the legal authority to set the price of milk to the cost of production per U.S. Code TITLE 7 Chapter 26 SUBCHAPTER III 608c 18 (18). I know he is aware of this as Farm Aid, on June 18, 2009, delivered 13,000 petitions signed by dairy farmers asking him to do so. The National Family Farm Coalition sent a letter to him on March 2, 2009 requesting the same thing. We would like Secretary Vilsack to set the price of milk to production until the government can look into the situation and see what is truly going on with the market price.
• Have Congress, the agricultural subcommittee or the dairy caucus look at long term reform for the dairy industry
Consider passing the Spector-Casey Bill S-889

I am sick and appalled that dairy farmers are committing suicide. I am saddened that the CWT program is sending hundreds of thousands of dairy cows to slaughter in an effort to decrease the number of cows in the system. This program is NOT working.
I am begging you to please help the dairy farmers. We are an important part of this nation’s food supply. If the dairy industry collapses, it will affect all Americans. Dairy farms simply cannot continue to lose thousands of dollars every month.

I’ve heard this crisis referred to as the “perfect storm”. For my husband and me, it has been the “perfect hurricane”. We will not be able to survive much longer. We need emergency assistance now (and we are talking weeks, not months). We cannot wait for “future” programs to be developed. Without immediate help, we will lose everything we have worked all our lives for – our farm, our home and our most important concern, our dairy cows who we birth, bottle feed, nurture, medically treat and provide comfort for in the hopes that the milk they produce will provide a living for us and will enter the American food system for all who consume dairy products.

I would be more than happy to speak to you about this or provide any information that would be helpful.
Janice Grimes

I can’t vouch for the authenticity of this but it does sound pretty authentic to me.

Over the years I’ve had a number of friends, acquaintances, and employees who’d grown up on farms. Based on that I can testify that people like Janice don’t view tragedies like this as the loss of a business but as the loss of a God-given calling. It’s less like having to close a store than a physician being prevented from practicing through no fault of his own.

5 comments… add one
  • Based on that I can testify that people like Janice don’t view tragedies like this as the loss of a business but as the loss of a God-given calling.

    Maybe so, but it is a mistaken belief. As you said about a person going to college and racking up large debts, “they bet badly”. The wish list is nothing more than rent seeking.

    Now, can you post this comment about how I should get 1 penny, just $0.01 from every man, woman and child in the U.S. to help me?

  • I’m not commenting on whether they’re right or wrong, Steve, but, based on my own experience, I’m pretty sure that’s what they think.

    I do think there’s a serious issue about the degree to which this is being caused by policy. New Zealand is the Saudi Arabia of milk protein concentrate. It’s my understanding that NZ doesn’t have agricultural subsidies but it’s possible that there’s dumping going on. I’m just gathering information.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I think the spam-protector grabbed my comment, but here is a summary:

    13,000 cow mega-dairy farm being built on Iowa border, grumble, externalises, grumble.

  • PD Shaw Link
  • No, looks like monopsony–a single or few purchasers, not a single seller.

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