It’s not an easy time to be a small dairy farmer in Wisconsin.
For 105 years, Wayne Noack and his family has operated a small dairy farm near Nichols.
“We got to do the work all ourselves and work within our means,” says Noack.
Right now, he doesn’t have a processor to sell his milk to and if he can’t find one soon he says he might have to sell all of his cows and pivot away from dairy farming.
Wayne says he owns about 25 milking cows although he says his farm used to be bigger. He says it’s difficult for him to compete with other dairy farms in the state that literally have hundreds of more cows than he does.
In the 1930s, there were 3.5 million dairy farms in the US. That number has shrunk to 35,000 today.
“We’ve had tremendous consolidation that has happened over time,” says Mark Stephenson who is the Director of Dairy Policy Analysis at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Stephenson says supply isn’t the issue, dairy farms are still producing an adequate amount of milk. But, because the supply is adequate processors can pick and choose which farmers they buy from.
This is often bad news for smaller dairy farmers.
“It’s a question if they really want to pick up farms that are smaller and maybe more costly to access so that’s what we’re seeing in many farms,” says Stephenson.
Processors can get more milk by making just one stop at a larger farm rather than having to travel to multiple smaller farms to get the same amount of milk.
Noack adds that in many cases, farms must produce a certain amount of milk before processors will travel out to them to get it. He says sometimes it’s hard for his farm to produce the necessary amount.
“It’s harder to keep going against the larger farms,” says Noack.
In 2020, Wisconsin was the country’s second-biggest milk producer behind California.