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Next generation of dairy farmers faces challenges

Next generation of dairy farmers faces challenges

Dairy producers hope to survive the current cash crunch so the next generation can continue dairying.

The Bicentennial Torch Relay couldn’t have chosen a better spot to begin the torch’s jaunt through Elkhart County than Mybrook Farms, operated by Michael Oesch and family. It’s a family dairy in every sense of the word, with a rich history in the dairy business. Oesch hopes that tradition will continue.

He spoke to some 400 people who gathered under a big tent on his farm recently for a kickoff breakfast to send the torch on its way across the county during the relay event that saw the bicentennial torch pass through all 92 Indiana counties.

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“My great-grandfather settled here in 1896,” Oesch noted. “He had 11 children, and they milked cows. By 1921, they were milking 20 cows. My dad, Myron, joined my grandfather here milking cows in 1950. I was the next generation to join in the 1970s. My dad and I formed a partnership.”

Today, Mybrook Farms is a 190-cow dairy operated by Oesch, wife Judy, and the next generation, Ryan and Laura (Oesch) Yoder.

“Our goal is to keep the dairy viable. We hope it can continue for generations to come,” Oesch said.

Tight times

The crowd gathered at MyBrook Farms to celebrate the Bicentennial Torch Relay and the importance of dairy in the history of not only Elkhart County, but also Indiana was in a festive mood. However, during breakfast and as small groups gathered to talk during the event, the 800-pound elephant in the tent was obvious. Dairy margins are razor-thin to nonexistent right now due to low milk prices. Some producers are going into their second year of minimal net returns.

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“How long can we continue doing this for free?” one dairyman was overheard saying. Another said he was considering various options to generate more cash, including selling heifers and investigating local marketing opportunities.

Changes in the dairy price support program over the years are part of the reason for concern now, dairy farmers say.

The dairy support program is based on the margin between milk prices and feed costs,” explains Michael Langemeier. He is a Purdue University Extension ag economist and associate director of Purdue’s Center for Commercial Agriculture.  

“The stress comes about due to the low milk prices we are currently facing,” he says. “If feed costs are also low, the support program is going to be ineffective in terms of mitigating downside risk.”

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