Recently, the Agriculture Fairness Alliance hosted a panel of experts who made the case for prioritizing fiber-rich foods in federal farm policy, including creating a transition pilot program by enacting the Farm and Ranch Mobility Solutions Act.
Meet Paul, a 5th generation Wisconsin dairy farmer who sees the writing on the wall for the dairy industry and sees a transition to fiber-rich food production as the way forward for his family’s future.
PAUL: “Hello, I’m Paul, a 5th generation dairy farmer from Western Wisconsin. My wife and I are in the process of taking over the family farm with consists of 200 cows on about 1000 acres. However, due to the continuing consolidation of the dairy industry and its movement away from the traditional family farm, we don’t plan on the next generation milking cows.”
Up until five years ago, the plan was to buy and expand the herd of cows. As we were putting numbers together it became very clear that money was going to be tight. We weren’t comfortable with a business plan that relied on funding from government programs to stay afloat.”
“About the same time, I was looking into perennial crops. I wanted to know if it was possible to grow some sort of nut crop at a commercial level, cold-hardy enough to survive the Wisconsin winter. It took some time, but I came across information on hazelnuts and the emerging group of people trying to grow them and establish a hazelnut industry in the midwest. ”
“Our farm is in a driftless region. We live in the part of Wisconsin that didn’t get run over by a glacier. We farm deep valleys and steep hills. Growing just corn and soybeans is not a realistic option. We currently strip-crop with alfalfa hay to avoid erosion and nutrient runoff. Inserting strips of hazelnuts would be a great way to replace the unneeded dairy use hay, and continue to farm our hills.”
“My wife and I want to continue to raise our family on the farm. We understand that we’re just stepping stones for our kids in the next generation. We want our kids to have a chance to pursue agriculture and take over this land someday. We don’t want them to be forced into something they’ll have to work their tails off to keep afloat or have to rely on government funding to survive. With the current dairy industry and climate change issues, our size of a dairy farm is not a long-term option.”
“I am very grateful for what businesses like Miyoko’s Creamery are doing. A common sight driving through the rural Midwest is well-kept farmhouses surrounded by an arrangement of dilapidated farm buildings. Communities that once held a dozen or more farmstead families now may have one or two. Fertile land that held so much pride and promise has been overrun by development and taken out of production forever.”
“There are a number of farmers like me who can see what’s coming. Whether it be climate or economic factors, keeping small or smaller farms in business, is going to require specific actions. We can’t all keep doing what we are doing. Miyoko Shinner mentioned suicide. Dairy farming is mentally tough. Far too often we find out about a farmer who ran himself into the ground mentally, physically, or financially. It is a very real and common problem.”
“Transitioning a farm is a long-term process. Education and grower outreach will be important. This multigenerational journey will continue. My four children live in a house partially built by their great great great grandfather. What we have is special and important and worth fighting for. There will be ups and downs and plenty of new challenges on the way, but I think we are on the right path. I appreciate these opportunities with AFA and with Miyoko’s Creamery. Thank you.”
ADDISON (Moderator) “Thinking about how we’re trying to influence, also enable farmers here in America to make this transition, Paul what is it that helps you? I heard you saying that specifically the market-making activities like what’s going on with Miyoko’s Creamery to be able to sell fiber-rich foods into the supply chain, but are there other ways that the government can support you?”
PAUL “Yes, thank you. I guess mainly from the dairy standpoint, give us incentives to plant other crops. Right now with Dairy to benefit from certain programs we have to keep dairying, we have to keep milking cows, even though the prices have been lagging for the last five, ten years. We keep getting the carrot in front of the donkey, keep getting payments to keep farming, to keep trudging along until you either fall off the wagon, or you quit or you try to thrive. I guess the government programs, they mean well, but I think they are off the mark.”