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Fair pricing remains key issue for dairies, producer says

Q-&-A-Bryan-Henrichs

During the pandemic, when some consumers were faced with no milk at their local grocery stores, Bryan Henrichs, a third-generation dairy farmer, reassured them. He let them know via video and social media he was working for them every day, caring for his cows and producing milk in Saint Rose in southern Illinois.

Further, as a member of the board of directors of Prairie Farm Dairy, he was working with others to ensure processing and transportation would get that milk to consumers. He remains active in advocating for dairy farmers and consumers. His involvement in promotions with the Prairie Farm Dairy cooperative has spilled over into active participation with the St. Louis Dairy Council, the Midwest Dairy Association Illinois Milk Promotion Board and Illinois Milk Producers Association.

Henrichs is active in the American Dairy Coalition as they get in front of legislation that will affect dairy farmers in the future, he said, and is an active member of the American Farm Bureau Dairy Working Group which is now giving input for the 2023 Farm Bill.

IFT: Where did your interest in dairy farming come from?

HENRICHS: I’m a third-generation farmer. My dad started milking cows in 1966 and he’s still milking. He turns 79 this week. My brother Rodney and I started working on the farm every day after high school.

IFT: Tell us a little bit about your farm today.

HENRICHS: My focus was on herd health and the dairy aspect early on, and now I do more general managing of the cows and crops. We started a custom silage business for farmers around us and it is growing. We milk 275 cows here and have about 700 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa near Saint Rose in Clinton County.

IFT: As part of a busy dairy operation, why did you get involved in Prairie Farms Dairy and advocacy?

HENRICHS: I was interested in how milk is processed and marketed. I want to make sure we always have somewhere to go with the milk we produce and that the industry is sustainable as long as we are dairy farmers.

IFT: What led to you to focus on promotion in Illinois and now nationally?

HENRICHS: Promotion is just about as important as bottling and packaging. A lot consumers are far away from the dairy industry today. St. Louis Dairy Council focuses on efforts in schools to teach children about how milk is produced. Midwest Dairy Association focuses on promoting dairy to restaurants and grocery stores. We need both parts.

IFT: How did the pandemic change dairy farming?

HENRICHS: Not much has changed on the farm. It has taken longer to get items we need including cleaning products for parlor equipment, but it’s not a major issue. We order ahead so we have product when we need it. Before, we may have ordered a month supply, now we order for six months.

IFT: How has the pandemic changed other parts of the dairy industry?

HENRICHS: The workforce has a different mindset now, they don’t want to work as long hours in bottling and packaging facilities. People prefer to work at home than drive somewhere and work 9 to 5 in production lines. The good employees are overworked. Many take early retirement. The labor shortage is a major issue.

IFT: What are some of the other big issues for farmers and the industry today?

HENRICHS: The biggest issue we’ve seen is price fluctuations. We hit record highs and record lows within two months. Producers are unable to protect their margins. They don’t have the risk management tools they need. We’re trying to find a new way to market milk.

IFT: How are you trying to change that?

HENRICHS: We are giving input to legislators and those working on the 2023 Farm Bill. The changes made to the Producer Price Differential in the 2018 Farm Bill made things worse during the pandemic. It should have been revenue neutral to the producers. Some saw their milk sold under contract at $17 to $18 and then with the PPD they only got $9.50. The American Farm Bureau is also writing policy to bring to the farm bill.

IFT: What other issues are dairy farmers active in right now?

HENRICHS: Hauling milk is a major issue. To pick up milk on smaller farms away from an island of dairy production is very costly. A small producer who was paying 2 to 3% of his revenue may now be paying 5 to 10% for trucking now.

IFT: Being involved nationally, you see some of the issues in other parts of the country. What are some of the challenges outside the Midwest?

HENRICHS: In the Southwest, including California, the shortage of rain and water is probably their biggest concern. In the Southeast, processing bottling plants are not making money. On Aug. 4, Borden announced it is closing a plant. Dairy farmers who supply it have less than 60 days to find a new market for their products. This is happening in Georgia and Alabama and Mississippi. As a result of processors and bottlers closing in the Southeast, schools and grocery stores will be short of milk.

IFT: What are other national issues affecting producers into the future?

HENRICHS: In this political climate, there is a lot of attention on sustainability and climate change. Farmers have become scapegoats. Over the next 10 to 15 years a major focus will be on how rations and manure are handled, controlling methane and greenhouse gases, reducing tillage and chemical use. Plant-based products will try to get a foothold into the dairy market. If we are able to capture methane and create energy the same as we produce food and farms are able to showcase they are sustainable, it will make a difference.

IFT: Many of our readers are farmers who do not have dairy cows. What would you like to say to them as a dairy farmer?

HENRICHS: Political and environmental issues that affect dairy farms also affect grain markets. Livestock guys are needed, and we need a shared message. Consumers are influenced every day and easily swayed by information on social media. Producers need to engage consumers and let them know what we are doing and can do on our farms for the environment. We want them to know we want to leave the land in better condition than we got it. We want to provide a safe product. Our children drink the same milk theirs do.

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Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.

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