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Serving: United States

Brancel working hard to help displaced Grassland producers

Holstein dairy cows at feed bunk
THE PLAN: Ben Brancel is working with processors and lenders to develop a plan that allows the state to purchase semiloads of milk from the affected Grassland producers, have the milk made into cheese, and then donate it to Feeding America food banks.
The clock is ticking for 44 farms to find new milk plants to take their milk by May 1.

Wisconsin Ag Secretary Ben Brancel said if some of the 75 Wisconsin farms let go by Grassland Dairy Products Inc. of Greenwood don’t have new markets for their milk and have to begin dumping milk on May 1, it will be the first time this has ever happened in the Dairy State.

“Other states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York have all dumped milk before due to a shortage of processing capacity, but up until now, Wisconsin has always had enough capacity to handle our milk,” Brancel said.

The ag secretary spoke about Grassland at the Cooperative Network Spring Dairy Issues Conference in Eau Claire on April 19. Mullins Cheese in Mosinee has agreed to buy milk from eight of Grassland’s farms, he said.

“We are aware of two others farms that have been picked up by other handlers,” Brancel said.

Grassland has agreed to continue picking up milk from several other farms that have milk contracted on the futures market through Grassland until those contracts expire by Jan. 1.

“We received 56 phone calls from farmers who said they are affected Grassland producers. We think we have 44 farms that don’t have homes for their milk,” Brancel said. “That’s about half the milk we were originally dealing with.”

He told processors whether they take on some of these dairy farms or not, the milk will still be out there.

“Even if these farms go out of business, they’re going to sell their cows, other farmers will buy them, and we’re still going to have the milk,” he explained.

TAKING LEADERSHIP: Wisconsin Ag Secretary Ben Brancel is working tirelessly to help find new milk markets for Grassland producers.

Brancel has been talking to all of the nearly 400 milk-processing plants in the state and is optimistic that more plants will agree to buy milk from Grassland producers by May 1. He is also working with processors and lenders to develop a plan that allows the state to purchase semiloads of milk from the affected Grassland producers, have the milk made into cheese, and then donate it to Feeding America food banks across the state.

Brancel also met with ag lenders and the Farm Service Agency. “The banking community and FSA are very interested in helping save these farmers,” he said. “We have also reached out to WHEDA [Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority] to see if they will give us credit for the cheese.”

Even though his plan would provide only a short-term fix, he believes it will help buy Grassland farmers a few more months to find a new market for their milk.

Brancel said the nation’s milk supply needs to be managed. “But the last thing I need right now is a federal quota system,” he said. “It [the federal government] can’t move fast enough.”

He said his office can’t handle a management supply system because it doesn’t have the manpower. He thinks processors should control the milk supply. “Land O’Lakes is already doing this out east. They’ve been doing this for a year.”

Brancel said there are large surpluses of milk in the country, and the dairy industry is going to have to “come up with some long-term solutions.”

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