LINN, Mo. — At the end of a gravel road, nestled in a valley in the rugged terrain of Osage County, Alfred Brandt’s family farmstead appears.
The farm was initially his dad’s grandparents’ place, and dairy has been a part of the family farming story for a long time.
“We’ve always done dairy,” Brandt says.
It has been a busy and challenging spring, keeping the dairy running while trying to get crops planted between rains and wet conditions. The last few years have been tough financially for farmers and the dairy industry.
But Brandt is a veteran dairy farmer, and despite all the challenges they’ve seen, veteran farmers know how to be hopeful.
“As dairy farmers, we’ve got to be eternal optimists,” he says.
His optimism as summer arrives is based on a few different factors, including the improving dairy market outlook. Brandt notes that this fall’s futures are looking decent.
“They keep saying it’s going to get better,” he says of ag economists’ projections.
Brandt also says the new Dairy Margin Coverage program will help producers, especially smaller dairies, and that it is a vast improvement over the Margin Protection Program it replaces.
“That’s part of the hope,” he says.
He says dairy producers would prefer to succeed without government assistance, but there are times when the support is needed, and he is glad the program has been upgraded.
Brandt has experience with the relationship between government and the dairy industry, as he serves as chairman of Missouri’s State Milk Board, the regulatory authority in the state. He’s glad to provide a producer voice on the board, and says the people on the board are good to work with.
“It’s good to be involved in those type of things,” he says.
Of course, despite his optimism, there are continued concerns in the dairy industry. The valley is green and lush, but all that rain made planting corn difficult or drowned a lot of what was planted, pushing the price upward.
“One of the concerns is weather related, and what it’ll do to feed prices,” Brandt says.
He grows a lot of his own feed, but all the rain has not been good for his alfalfa.
“Alfalfa doesn’t like having its feet wet,” he says.
Like a lot of farmers, Brandt has been watching the global trade negotiations and feeling the effects. He is hopeful for positive resolutions to trade disputes and market opportunities, but he has seen the impact of tariffs along the way.
“It certainly stopped the market last year whenever they announced the tariffs,” he says.
Brandt has also seen producers leaving the dairy business over the last few decades as consolidation trends continue.
“The dairy industry’s been contracting for at least 30 years at a pretty consistent rate,” he says. “I don’t really see those trends changing anytime soon, much as I hate to say it.”
Still, Brandt says there are opportunities for young people in the dairy industry, even if it doesn’t take on the traditional look of owning their own dairy farm.
“I think there’s always been opportunities and always will be opportunities,” he says. “But it won’t be easy.”
In fact, there are a lot of times when dairy farming is not easy — some years more than others. But Brandt loves what he does for a living, loves caring for the animals, the marketing and the strategy and being outdoors. It’s hard for him to think about doing anything else, remembering a conversation with his wife, Sonya, during the historic drought of 2012.
“I remember 2012 was just terrible with the drought, and my wife asked me, ‘What would you do if you couldn’t be a dairy farmer?’” Brandt says. “And I said, ‘I don’t know, probably dreaming about being a dairy farmer.’”