Is Dairying Worth the Hassle Anymore?
Oct 02, 2012
At least three suicides by dairy producers have occurred this year in California’s Kings County, which adjoins Tulare County and makes up part of the nation’s No. 1 milk-producing region.
Financial stress is not only widespread in California’s San Joaquin Valley but across the U.S. There are reports that some dairies are losing $100,000 per month. Many expect this year’s dairy farm troubles to approach the severity of 2009’s crash-and-burn ordeal. Equity – or what was left of it – is vanishing, leaving many producers with little to show for years of hard work. Congress apparently doesn’t care enough about the industry’s woes, since it couldn’t or wouldn’t pass a farm bill before it recessed a couple of weeks ago.
So, it’s not unreasonable to ask if dairying is worth the hassle anymore.
I posed the question to Charlie de Groot, a third-generation dairy producer from Fresno, Calif., and one of Dairy Today’s 2012 Dollars & Sense columnists. His family operation milks 2,400 cows.
"In the short term, no, dairying is not worth the hassle, but we can’t just close the doors and move on to something else," de Groot told me. "It’s not easy to get in and out of. A majority of dairy operations are family-owned and -operated, and so it isn’t just a job that we can quit. It’s a lifestyle that we’ve invested our time, talents and treasure into."
That’s a pretty sobering assessment from a man who’s only 33 years old, with a wife and four children. Makes me want to look for help and hope. Which brings me to where I am today – at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis.
World Dairy Expo is the dairy industry’s show of shows. This dairy Disneyland at the Alliant Energy Center brings back the shine to the industry, if only for a few days. From Oct. 2 through Oct. 6, more than 65,000 people from 90 countries will visit Expo. They’ll come for the cattle show judging, award winners, educational seminars, the best in cattle genetics – and so much more.
Some 860 animal health, nutrition, equipment, marketing and dairy service companies will share their best and latest products and services. Millions of dollars have been invested in those companies and on these grounds. In the Madison area alone, the show has an estimated impact of $15 million on the economy. Behind the scenes, there will be more high-stakes meetings than most people would ever guess.
World Dairy Expo reflects the industry’s expertise, technology and commitment. It reveals the incredible focus of driven, intelligent people. It proves the U.S. dairy industry still dazzles, leads and performs.
World Dairy Expo may seem a world removed from the dairy you face every morning in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Idaho’s Magic Valley or the Texas Panhandle. It may be the furthest thing from your mind during that stressful meeting with the lender who’s ready to cut you loose. But maybe there’s something here for you – some thread of an idea, some possible product or service, some person you meet. You might click with an exhibitor who convinces you to take a closer look at doing business in his or her state. Maybe something you find here will restore your belief that dairying is still worth the hassle.
World Dairy Expo is also a reminder that you’re not in this alone. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of dairy producers here this week who can share in your thoughts as no one else can. Like you, they’re part of a noble profession and an essential cog in America’s enviable food production system.
Even though Charlie de Groot won’t be here at World Dairy Expo this week, this show is for him – and thousands more who struggle and hope, just as he does.
"My hope is that ultimately dairying is worth the hassle, and that I’m able to see future generations of our family be able to continue this lifelong journey of dairying," de Groot said. "I don’t think our world can survive without dairy products, so I’ll remain optimistic that this industry will rebound and our operations will become profitable again."
Do you agree with de Groot? Email me at email@example.com and let me know what you think.