Open Letter to the U.S. Legislature
I keep saying to myself, I don’t understand! I really don’t. I am a dairy farmer’s wife in Kentucky and we produce a high quality, wholesome product which sells in the stores today for $2.49 a gallon. In 1997 this same gallon of milk sold for an average price of $2.36 in Louisville, KY according to a 2000 summary by the Federal Milk Market Administrator. Dairy farmers have no say in those prices either at the store or the farm. We take the price given to us for our milk.
The people who set those prices must think inflation doesn’t affect us. I can promise you when the gas truck rolls in here they don’t sell us gas for what the prices were 15 or 20 years ago, neither does the feed company, electric company , veterinarian, or any of the other businesses we deal with. When I go to the grocery they don’t say you are a dairy farmer so you don’t have to pay the inflated prices. When the people who set our prices go to buy milk at the grocery they know the price of milk has not gone up with inflation. My husband bought a new tractor in 1985 for around $30,000 and that tractor today would be at least $85,000. How do you expect us to stay in business? Does anyone really care?
It seems irrational to me that the Federal government sets the minimum milk prices to farmers but will not take into consideration what it cost a farmer to produce the product. I am sure a car manufacturer does that! They figure metal, labor and even taxes and mark their product up to make a profit. Otherwise they would go out of business like most of the dairy farms in our state. We can’t do that! Our prices are set by a system which doesn’t figure in inflation or what it cost to produce it. Isn’t the Federal government supposed to represent all the people, not just certain sectors of an industry? Dairy farmers pay taxes too.
I see my husband work 16 hour days, no vacations, no church, no long holidays and he has done this for most of his life. He is nearing retirement age now and while others are thinking of slowing down; we are faced with borrowing money against sweat equity in order to continue in business. That’s our retirement, but dairy farmers never seem to retire.
We are not looking for a hand out. We are asking for those who set the milk prices to also figure in inflation and what it cost to produce our product. Wouldn’t that be the fair way? Some say if you don’t like it get out, but it is nearly impossible to quit at this age. We never gave up hope all those years of low milk prices that someone would see their mistake and fix it, but no one is listening! How many job opportunities are there for a senior citizen?
I lost my father last year. He was a dairy farmer and because the prices did not consider inflation or the cost to produce milk, he died without enjoying all he had worked for during his life. All those years he dedicated to making a quality product for a price that is considerably under fair market value, he lived the last part of his life with a small monthly social security check which barely paid for his medicine and insurance. He got up at four thirty in the morning and home by eight or nine. He loved what he did, he loved his cows and he was a very proud man; yes, he was a dairy farmer.
At the death of my father, my brother took over the operation of the farm. He figured out a way to save the dairy farm which has been in our family since before the depression. He and his family opened an agri-tourism business and they now make ice cream on the farm. Unfortunately they have to take money from that business to support and keep the dairy farm operable. He is working two full time businesses, up at 4:00 am and on a good day home by 10:00 p.m. Why, because people who set our prices don’t consider the cost of producing milk and don’t think inflation has hit our industry.
Although our farm has received some funding through the government subsidy program, it has not been enough to cover one month’s feed bill yet this year. This appears much like other government programs. Since we are not paid accordingly with cost factors for inflation or cost of producing our product, we are subsidized slightly in a veiled attempt to keep us producing while keeping milk the same price it was over 15 years ago.
When my husband and I discuss this dilemma of trying to cover farm expenses on a monthly milk check that is several dollars under our expenses we think maybe we aren’t as efficient as others. But I find that hard to believe. We don’t buy anything that we don’t absolutely have to have. The cows are well above the state milk production average. We receive premiums because our milk is the highest quality. Even then, this will not cover the cost to produce the milk. My husband certainly can’t work more hours, he is already putting in 15-16 hour days. On a personal note we have extended our deductible on our medical insurance to the maximum and as I stated earlier, do not go on vacations. As I talk with other farmers, I know we are not alone. This isn’t about inefficiencies; it is about a system that needs to be changed and changed now!
I am not asking for a hand out. But I am asking for someone to stand up and acknowledge that the way milk is priced in this country is wrong. Inflation has affected dairy farming like everything else and the cost of producing a high quality, wholesome product should be considered in setting the milk price to farmers. We want to be treated fair and I for one am tired of not getting answers. ***** Our state does not produce enough milk for our residents and instead of getting premium prices (supply and demand) for our milk like the gas companies; we lose $1.50 - $1.75 per hundred pounds of milk to have milk shipped into our state.
There has to be someone, somewhere who can help! I hope and pray you can because if not, eventually there will be more farm families going under and losing all those years of sweat equity they have for pennies on the dollar. I am writing this letter hopefully to help those who aren’t as fortunate as us. How many more dairy farm families will go under before someone takes notice and action? How many more dairy farmers will we lose to suicide because the thought of losing their farms, many family farms is just too depressing? Unfortunately, I know a dairy farm family that had to endure this type of tragedy too close to home.
A C Kalmey
Reprinted from Willie Nelson’s website, www.willienelson.com