GREENWOOD, Wis. – It’s been a tough start to the month for about 75 dairy farmers in southern Wisconsin. They have been left in limbo land after their milk buyer decided to renege from contracts.
According to Greenwood-based Grassland Dairies, which says it’s proud of its family business steeped in history since 1904, it was forced to pull the contracts after its Canadian buyer said new regulations forced them to stop buying the dairy’s milk. For the farmers who supply Grassland, that means there is now a desperate battle on to find a new buyer before May 1. Otherwise they will be forced to dump the milk or sell their cows.
In a statement Grassland said, “Grassland recently made the difficult decision to reduce our milk-intake volumes. After years of selling milk product into Canada, our Canadian partners notified us that due to their new Canadian dairy regulations, they would stop purchasing our products effective immediately.
“The Canadian business affects Grassland up to 1 million pounds of milk per day. After evaluating and adjusting as much milk as possible, we were forced to decrease our milk intake.
“In the past years, Grassland has worked tirelessly with state and federal officials, Gov. (Scott) Walker and Paul Ryan, national and state industry organizations, (the U.S. Dairy Export Council) and (the National Milk Producers Federation); along with the media in an attempt to keep Canadian trade.
“Despite our attempts to keep trade open, we have been unsuccessful and regretfully will no longer be able to take in milk from some producers. While this came suddenly, for both our company and the farmers, we hope farms will be able to transition during the next several weeks. This was a difficult decision and made with the utmost respect for the hard-working dairy farmers.”
The Grassland suppliers are on a 30-day notice and some are already finding it difficult to find a substitute buyer.
It’s easy to understand why the farmer suppliers are angry after they received generic unsigned letters in the mail informing them of the decision they say is cruel.
Waterloo, Wisconsin, farmers Jennifer and Shane Sauer are currently trying to find another buyer. They said they know only too well the consequences if they cannot.
Jennifer Sauer said, “Our world revolves around these cows, and we’re hoping to continue. But if we don’t have a place for our milk, we can’t continue.
“It’s heartbreaking. I don’t know. We’ve worked day and night to get where we’re at.”
Trying to support the famers is the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Board of Directors who, in a statement said, “A number of dairy producers, many of which are also PDPW members, received notification from Grassland. Since that time, PDPW has contacted resources in Washington, D.C., and has been in communications with leaders at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture.
“While the dairy industry is the fabric of our rural communities, fellow dairy farmers are family. Each farm affected by the notification should know that they are not working alone and that leaders throughout the Wisconsin dairy sector are working around the clock to find resources and ways to debottleneck the situation.
“During these difficult times it is critically important to stay focused on what you can control. While we all work together on behalf of farm families, we remind our farmers to remain steadfast at taking care of their own health, their families and taking care of their cows.”
Meanwhile, Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden said, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of the farms who recently received this unwelcome news. As a dairy farmer myself, I know exactly how devastating it would be to receive such a letter.
“With nearly every processor in the state already at capacity, farmers have almost no other options for selling their milk. It is nearly certain that these actions by processors will result in dairy-farm closures. A cow is a mammal, not a machine. You can’t just turn her milk production off with a switch and wait for better market conditions.”
According to the union, Grassland has known at least since this past November, and probably as early as two years ago, that potential changes in Canada’s ultra-filtered milk regulations were likely. In November, Walker circulated a guest column addressing the Canadian pricing policy designed to discourage U.S. exports of ultra-filtered milk.
Von Ruden said, “The affected farmers would be in a much better position today if they had received advance warning from Grassland months ago to curtail their production. We encourage other dairy processors to be more forward-thinking in their communications with their farmers.”
Von Ruden also said that at the same time Grassland is dropping family dairy farms in Wisconsin from its rolls, it’s seeking to build a corporate-owned 5,000-cow dairy in Dunn County, Wisconsin.
“In light of this new development, we hope that Grassland will reconsider its Dunn County (concentrated animal feeding operation) project,” he said. “Having many independently owned dairy farms is better for the economy and better for our rural communities than one vertically integrated supply chain.”