We’re moving into the New Year and I have been reflecting on the changes in farming in this area over the many years since I grew up in North Bloomfield. Dramatic changes have taken place in the dairy industry and in growing grain.
As I have written in the past, 50 to 60 years ago roads in the rural areas were lined with dairy farms, mostly small herds of 15 to 50 cows. These cows were housed in small stanchion barns with a silo attached on the side or end.
Much of the milk was being sent to market in 10-gallon milk cans, with bulk tanks just starting to become popular. In the barn, pipelines were being used on a few farms, with better cooling being done in the milk house through mechanical rather than water cooling.
Take a look around and you will see that a dramatic change has taken place.
First, there are just a fraction of the dairy farms still in business today. With milk prices continuing to be below cost of production, we will probably lose more farms in the future. One of the most recent ones was the Polchin Family herd up in Cherry Valley, Ashtabula County.
The Polchins had received a letter from the processor that was taking their milk telling them they no longer wanted it after a certain date. Polchins searched for a buyer but there was no demand for their milk, so they made the decision to sell their registered herd of Holsteins.
It was not an easy decision for them since dairy farming had been a big part of their lives for many years.
Milk prices going into 2019 do not look good. There is just plain too much milk in this country and without a strong export market, prices won’t increase to levels needed for profitable dairy farming.
Actions taken by our federal government, such as tariffs and discontinuing trade agreements, have had a negative effect on the dairy export market. Right now, USDA is sitting on about 1.4 billion pounds of cheese, the largest in history. Until that surplus is disposed of, it will depress milk prices because cheese is one of the products that support the milk price.
According to the USDA, China has just now started to buy substantial amounts of our agricultural products as well as manufactured and other products. How long this will continue is not known because China is an erratic and uncertain market.
Other factors not related to exports affect the milk price. For example, when you walk into the grocery store, you may see the dairy case full of products that are labeled “milk.” It may be an almond, coconut or other plant-based beverage, but it is not real cow’s milk and is an inferior product. But some people buy it thinking it is equal nutritionally to milk, but it is not.
Regulations have been passed requiring these beverages to be label something other than milk but they have not been enforced. A recent survey found that 61 percent of consumers want FDA to enforce regulations that require plant-based beverages to be labeled other than milk.
Considering the outlook for better milk prices, what is the future for dairy farming in this area? While we have seen many local dairy farms hang on in spite of low prices, this can’t continue forever. Across Ohio and in many states, dairy farms keep going out of business.
This may continue until the amount of milk and the demand are in balance and that may take some time. The future is not as bright as those still in the business would like. Let’s hope prices get at least good enough for them to stay in business.