Dairy Together looks to rally producers around supply management system
It's been working for Canadian dairy for decades.
And as dairy producer numbers in Wisconsin and the nation continue to dwindle there is an ongoing effort to rally support for supply management. In simple terms supply management is a mandated milk production to limit the amount of milk on the market to allow producers more control on their farm gate price.
In 2018 two Canadian producers visited Wisconsin to meet with producers to discuss their experience with supply management. Meetings were well attended, one held in Westby before a capacity audience at the local bowling alley.
But lack of support from the dairy majority and state legislators mired any progress. But in an effort to revive discussion on supply management the Wisconsin Farmers Union and Farm Bureau in an effort to build consensus.
Part of that effort is the Dairy Together campaign. Organizers unveiled a short video Wednesday, Oct. 28 for a virtual audience via Zoom.
Supply Management and How It Can Save Our Rural Economy premiered during a virtual event that drew 100 attendees and featured a panel of Wisconsin dairy farmers.
Westby dairy producer and WFU president Darin Von Ruden shared a few thoughts before the video was shown. Three dairy producer wives took part in a virtual panel discussion. Panelists for the premiere included WFU members Brittany Olson, Chetek; Patty Edelburg, Amherst; and Tina Hinchley, Cambridge.
Von Ruden is pleased with the working relationship between WFU and Farm Bureau, but added, "Some movement is taking longer than a lot of (producers) like. But things move slowly in the dairy industry. There are a lot of misconceptions floating around about supply management, but this film dispels the myths and provides an opportunity to see the big picture."
Edelburg is vice president of the National Farmers Union. She urges implementation of supply management as a tool to keep family farmers on the land.
“Even a small change in milk production can shift prices. It’s a system that has made farmers price takers instead of price makers, and that needs to change," Edelberg said. “I grew up in a small town that had a grocery store, a bank, a gas station, surrounded by family farms. There’s nothing left. The farmers went, one by one, then the businesses closed. We need to embrace change to keep our communities viable.
Said Olson, "We’re at a pretty pivotal point in our industry history, where we could embrace supply management or go the way of poultry and hogs and become totally vertically integrated,”
She and her husband milk 40 cows on a fifth generation farm in Barron County.
Hinchley and her husband milk 230 cows on her family’s Dane County dairy farm. She places some blame on the infrastructure of America's Dairyland to foster supply management.
“There are over 400 processing plants in Wisconsin," Hinchley said. "That’s one of the big reasons we are America’s Dairyland. But they’ve been living off of low milk prices for quite a while. We need to see more of that profit trickle down to the farmers. Processors will not support supply management. They have been making a living off low milk prices."
Edelburg concedes supply management in the United States versus Canada would look different. She mentioned the downside that some producers north of the border face challenges to get started in the dairy industry because of its quota system.
"(We) would need something in place to for producers to get started," Edelburg said. "Supply management is not a cookie cutter system."
The video is eight minutes long and explains how overproduction depresses prices. Farmers often respond by seeking ever-greater efficiencies to produce more food, which in turn floods the market, drives prices down further, and creates a vicious cycle of farm loss.
WFU Policy and Special Projects Coordinator Bobbi Wilson moderated Zoom discussion. Wilson said low prices have made farmers more dependent on government subsidies.
"If supply management was implemented in 2014 there would have been a lot of dairy farms saved," Wilson said. "National leaders did not support it. Perhaps a small silver lining is that we can see the consequences of political inaction. That has spurred a renewed interest in supply management. It has proven to a lot of farmers and dairy stakeholders that we are at risk of losing the majority of our dairy farms if congress fails to make major changes to federal dairy policy once again.”
View the video and learn more about how you can get involved with Dairy Together at www.dairytogether.com.