Minnesota loses one dairy farmer every day

On May 7, the Civic Buzz of the Minneapolis League of Women Voters had two speakers discussing, “The Urban/Rural Struggle for a Sustainable Future.” Meg Moynihan, an organic milk farmer from southern Minnesota described the struggles of today’s famers. In addition to her job as a Senior Advisor with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, she and her husband Kevin Stuedemann operate a 70 cow organic dairy farm – with an assortment of other animals – between New Prague and Henderson, Minnesota.

The farm is 170 certified organic acres, plus 100 rented organic acres in Rice County. They were qualified as an organic producer but then out of the blue their cooperative buyer of their milk announced they would no longer pick up milk from “small producers.” This resulted in them dumping the daily milk output, 1,000 gallons, for two months until they could find another buyer. That search turned out to be an agonizing adventure, with her husband threatening to go back to over-the-road trucking to provide an income. With all the resources she had through the Department of Agriculture, it still was a difficult quest.

“All of our milk now goes to Organic Valley as organic. After our first organic buyer stopped our route in April 2016, we dumped milk for two months. Then we got on a conventional milk route at the end of May, so we were then selling our organic milk as conventional. And at a conventional price, too. Milk is priced per hundred pounds (hundredweight, or CWT) Our price per 100 lbs dropped from $39 per CWT to about $14 — but at least the milk was leaving the farm and some cash was coming in the door. We limped along that way until December 2016, when Organic Valley started picking up our organic milk to use as organic (and paying us an organic price for it). Our price is about $28 per CWT now,” said Moynihan.

Moynihan described the agonies and obstacles in today’s farming and the mental set of farmers, their concern for family, community, land even though, “Farmers in just about all sectors of agriculture have been losing money for the past 4 or 5 years.”

She also described how a friend in Watonwan County told her when why moved there in 1977 she could look out her window and see 17 farms, today there are two. Moynihan said that the state loses one dairy farm every day.

Amanda Babcock is with the Land Stewardship Project (LSP). LSP has about 4300 household members in Minnesota and parts of Iowa and Wisconsin. Babcock talked about the efforts to increase stewardship of the land recognizing sometimes divergent interests of farms, municipalities, and state ownership. Membership is about 1/3 family farmers, 1/2 rural communities, and 1/3 urban areas. “There are more farmers over the age of 65 than under the age of 35 right now.” She went on, “The average farm income in Minnesota is the lowest in 23 years and were losing about one dairy farmer per day right now.”

Babcock went on to describe efforts to bring about change in rural communities without destroying them or losing land integrity.

According to their website, the Land Stewardship Vision is:
“The Land Stewardship Project wants more successful stewardship farmers raising both livestock and crops on the land.”

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