OPINIONYou rarely hear complaints from farmers about their jobs because they love what they do. Of course there will be talk about the weather, milk prices and the occasional tractor breakdown.
It’s June Dairy Month and there’s no better time to recognize the work dairy farmers do and the challenges they face. Farmers need to be expert mechanics, scientists, business owners and creative geniuses to make a farm thrive. But factors beyond their control mean even the smartest or the hardest-working farmers can face bankruptcy.
Farmers have seen glorious and terrible times throughout our history. In the 1930s many farmers lost it all when the soil they relied on was literally blown away. In the 1980s banks held auctions on farms they re-possessed after numerous farm bankruptcies.
Wisconsin farmers find themselves in desperate times. Much has been written about the plight of our farms, especially our dairy farms. We’ve lost dairy farms at an alarming rate – we are losing nearly two farms each day. Farm families deserve better.
My friend Mike told me a story about growing up on their farm in the 1980s. It was a difficult time. The father of a neighboring farm family chose suicide instead of seeing everything he worked for in life come crashing down. Sadly the family would need to give up their farm.
Soon after that horrible discovery and a major rain event, Mike’s father was stuck with his tractor in the mud right before the harvest. The son of the deceased farmer came to help Mike’s family farm. They pulled the tractor out of the mud and harvested the crops. Even in terrible despair and grief, one farmer came to the rescue of another.
Farmer suicide is at an all-time record number in Wisconsin. I’ve heard from farmers who found themselves at the brink but were talked out of taking that final terrible act. The weight of mental strain on farmers struggling is incredibly difficult to bear due to the pride they take in their work and the consequences of each big decision. If we know a farmer struggling to make ends meet, we all need to offer support. Counseling can help.
Understanding how we arrived at this crisis is just as complicated as the solutions to overcome it. Climate change has caused dramatic weather patterns. Farmers need to know impossible answers to important questions. Will it be a wet spring like this year? Will we experience a drought? Will the fall harvest be delayed? Even with the help of modern science, unpredictable weather causes major problems for farmers.
Poor market prices is another factor out of a farmer’s control. Family farms can’t make a profit due to overproduction, a greater dependence on foreign markets and global tariffs. Federal rules and market boards make determinations that can make or break local farms. Despite how well the herd or crops are maintained, family farms are influenced by choices made thousands of miles away.
We’ve all heard comments that make us wonder where our compassion has gone. Comments like “farmers deserve what they get” because of how they voted in the last election. Or “farmers need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” If we hear comments like that, we all need to correct it and show compassion to our farmers for the jobs they do.
No matter the cause of the crisis, nobody deserves what our farmers are going through. Nobody. With farmer suicide at a record number and the rapid rate of family-farm closures, we need solutions – not someone to blame. As we work together to find those solutions, we must continue to hold onto compassion at a time when our farmers need it the most.
June is Dairy month. Visit a dairy breakfast to learn more about the important role farmers play in our communities. Most of all take time to listen to farmers to understand their hard-earned pride.
Visit bit.ly/dairylocations to see dairy-breakfast locations and information.