Dairy Farmers

THE ISSUE

Pennsylvania’s agriculture secretary has stepped in to try to buy more time for 42 dairy farmers in Lancaster and Lebanon counties who are losing milk contracts, LNP reported Wednesday. Secretary Russell Redding sent a letter to Texas-based Dean Dairy Holdings LLC, asking the nation’s largest dairy milk processor to give the farmers more than 90 days to find other outlets for their milk. Dean recently sent letters to the farmers, saying they could no longer sell their milk to the Wengert’s Swiss Premium Dairy in Lebanon County after May 31. At the same time, as LNP’s Ad Crable reported March 18, the ongoing dairy crisis has prompted groups in Pennsylvania and Lancaster County to help dairy farmers and their families who are dealing with emotional stress.

This is a bad time to be a dairy farmer. But it’s important that we understand the depth of the crisis and that farmers know help is available.

“I think there’s a little feeling of desperation out there — what do you do?” Lisa Graybeal, a Fulton Township dairy farmer, told Crable.

As Crable reported, a New England dairy cooperative recently sent out suicide prevention letters along with milk checks because three farmers had killed themselves in the last three years.

The Lancaster County Agriculture Council is considering publishing a pamphlet for local dairy farmers and families listing local counselors and church leaders they can contact for stress management and financial counseling. The pamphlets would be distributed to local feed companies, milk haulers, equipment dealers, those regularly in contact with dairy farmers and others whom farmers trust, Crable reported.

This is worth pursuing given the gravity of the situation.

Milk prices are down and trending lower. Farmers simply aren’t able to earn enough money to make ends meet. The reality is that many farmers will have no choice but to sell their cows and find another way to make a living.

“I’d rather keep on going,” Ronks dairy farmer Elmer King told Crable in January. “But I don’t see any milk futures as being profitable, so there’s no sense in keeping cows. It’s not profitable.”

Above everything else, this is profoundly sad. As King told Crable, he’s been a dairy farmer his entire life.

And the worst might be yet to come. More milk contracts are likely to be canceled in the near future.

Even in the best of times, farming is a difficult proposition. The days are long and hard. There are no vacations or personal days. Success or failure often depends on factors outside of your control, such as pricing and weather. Farming can be a solitary pursuit, and in times of acute financial and emotional distress, support is often lacking.

The state’s Center for Dairy Excellence recently sent out an appeal to counselors and trained church leaders, Crable reported. It asked them to join a new network that will focus on helping farmers cope with “overwhelming stress and protecting their well-being.”

We hope this important effort succeeds.

“There’s a tremendous amount of stress. There’s a general sense of gloom and doom on many farms. There are some farms that are kind of at the end of it,” retired veterinarian Charles Gardner told LNP. Gardner travels around the state for the center, talking to struggling farmers.

According to a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, farming has one of the highest suicide rates among occupations.

In these uncertain times in the dairy business, we laud those working to raise awareness of depression and anxiety among dairy farmers, and urge those farmers to seek help if they need it.

Don Risser, a dairy farmer from Bainbridge, told LNP: “I encourage people to reach out to their friends and family and not keep it to themselves. It’s more than they can handle themselves.”

Such is the reality of dairy farming for those who have spent their lives doing it.

In the short term, farmers affected by Dean Dairy’s decision are urging the public to contact Dean Foods (DeanFoods@CaSupport.com) and request that local farmers be given until the end of 2018 to find a new outlet for their milk or to enable them an orderly exit from the industry, the Lebanon Daily News reported. We would also encourage you to contact Dean so, at the very least, farmers can buy a little more time.

In desperate times, perhaps the best we can do is let our farmers know that they don’t have to struggle alone.

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