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Small farms pay the price

white barn with silo, cornfield in foreground
TOO MUCH MILK: A few less large expansions, and we’d have no oversupply to talk about.
Your Say: Marathon County dairy farmer believes large farms have too many advantages.

By Randy Wokatsch

I found the simplest definition of “political correctness” in the Cambridge Dictionary: “avoiding language or behavior that any particular group of people might feel is unkind or offensive.” I see rampant political correctness in the dairy industry. How do you chart a course for the future when the nature and causes of current and past issues are avoided?

I’m embarrassed our milk once went to Grassland Dairy. We left after being underpaid $5,000 in one year and learning they were buying land and cows to compete against us. I have a copy in front of me of the letter to those 75 dropped patrons in which they took no responsibility and signed it “respectfully.” What’s respectful about passing blame and giving a month’s notice to a situation long known to be imminent?

I’ve never liked Dairy 30 X 20. Billed for “sustainability of the dairy industry,” it was more accurately for farm and processor expansion, depression of prices and the demise of small farms. Government action/inaction has contributed greatly to oversupply problems. Government-backed, locked-in low-interest loans are too easy to get for expansions, and often, business plans for expansions have depended on an illegal alien workforce. Why have we looked the other way while people came here illegally and then were hired illegally? The distinction between illegal alien and immigrant has been purposefully blurred. Also, banks have told farmers no money is available to add 20 cows, but to add 200 or 2,000 more, we’re here for you.

Available capital and available labor could have (and should have) been limiting factors to farm expansion. A few less large expansions, and we’d have no oversupply to talk about.

I do believe diversity is our strength. Farms of all sizes and philosophies have a right to exist, but we are giving too many advantages to large farms.

While I feel our industry must grow to be healthy and that we have a responsibility to help feed the world, the government has meddled enough to financially strap the same small farms everyone says they want to see when they drive around our state. Road destruction, high-capacity wells, manure/environmental issues and animal welfare are all magnified by these large farms. In a nutshell, they’re a PR nightmare. Now what? We live with the consequences. Smaller farms will continue to disappear, regardless of what’s in the next margin protection or farm bill.

Through honest assessment, the dairy industry can and will recover from our current predicament. Unfortunately, it will be without many innocent small farms.

Wokatsch lives in Marathon City.

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