Milk prices tak­ing toll on lo­cal farm­ers

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Front Page - By Charles Pritchard cpritchard@onei­dadis­patch.com

CAZEN­OVIA, N.Y. » Lo­cal dairy farm­ers are fac­ing their fourth year strug­gling to make ends meet.

Gene and Anne Mer­ri­man started Granny Anne Reg­is­tered Hol­steins in 2006 and say the farm has had only one or two years good years in that span.

The Mer­ri­mans over­see more than 200 cows, 90 of which are milked twice a day; once at 4:30 a.m. and again at 3 p.m. It takes around 10 hours to milk ev­ery cow on the farm and, by the end of the day, Gene and Anne have gath­ered around 5,000 pounds of milk on av­er­age.

But milk prices have been steadily drop­ping since 2014, when the av­er­age hit $24 per 100 pounds, the high­est price since at least 2000. Prices quickly dropped to an av­er­age of about $17 per 100 pounds of milk in 2015, $16 in 2016 and $17 last year. Gene’s ship­ment of 142,314 pounds

of milk in Fe­bru­ary went for $15.18 per 100 pounds.

Gene laid out his monthly ex­penses, rang­ing from $8,227 in feed and grain, $4,627 for sup­plies, $1,092 to haul his milk and many more. It’s hard for him to make a profit and, in­stead, finds him­self $2,331 in the hole.

“Ev­ery­one’s ex­penses are go­ing to be dif­fer­ent,” Gene said. “But the way I see it? It costs me $77 to turn the lights on in the morn­ing.”

And the cost cal­cu­lated does not in­clude equip­ment, mort­gage or wages. For 2016, Gene and Anne re­ported a to­tal net loss of $151,152.

“You look at these costs and noth­ing is out of line. These are the costs to run a dairy farm,” Gene said. “If it wasn’t for my other busi­ness, Cen­ter State Agri­cul­ture Ser­vice, sup­ple­ment­ing the farm, we’d be so be­hind on bills they’d be fore­clos­ing on me.”

Mon­ica and Bill Cody run Cody Farms, es­tab­lished in 1870 by Mon­ica’s great­grand­fa­ther Ken­dall Cody. While they are sur­viv­ing fi­nan­cially, Mon­ica said it’s be­com­ing more dif­fi­cult to rein­vest in the farm to keep it in a po­si­tion to thrive in the fu­ture.

“Month to month, it’s ba­si­cally a jug­gling act to pay bills on time,” Mon­ica said. “A lot of older farm­ers are in a tough po­si­tion be­cause they don’t want to con­tinue los­ing money farm­ing, but if they sell their as­sets they are worth much less than they were a few years ago, espe­cially cat­tle.”

Gene said the re­sale value for his farmis ba­si­cally noth­ing and that he couldn’t give it away with the cost needed to op­er­ate it.

The over­abun­dance of milk in the­mar­ket is just one of the rea­sons why prices are so low. The Dairy Farm­ers of Amer­ica, a mar­ket­ing co­op­er­a­tive that mar­kets and sells milk in the north­east­ern United States, ap­plies a mar­ket ad­just­ment to the milk.

Gene said the DFA are mak­ing this ad­just­ment be­cause dairy farm­ers are over­pro­duc­ing and tell farm­ers that the milk has to go out to mar­ket at a lower price. Gene said this is meant to have a sta­bi­liz­ing ef­fect, but he was con­cerned about the un­cer­tainty.

“It was 52 cents in Fe­bru­ary and Jan­uary was 57 cents,” Gene said. “You don’t know what the num­ber is un­til you get the milk check. It’s like get­ting your pay­check and your boss says ‘He didn’t per­form like he did last month, so we’re go­ing to take a dol­lar an hour off’. ”

When Gene gets his milk checks and looks at his de­duc­tions, the dif­fer­ence be­tween 52 cents and 57 cents could be $740 or $811 taken off with the rest of the de­duc­tions.

If he knew back in the early 2000s what he knew now about the di­ary farm, Gene said hewould have not in­vested in the farm.

“My wife has said since the day I built this farm that it’s noth­ing but a los­ing propo­si­tion and that I’m a knot head,” Gene said. “We go to these meet­ings and they have Far­mNet for peo­ple with stress and we need them, but we need more than that. Our gov­ern­ment should stand up and try to pro­tect us.”

Far­mNet has­made strides in help­ing the farm­ing com­mu­nity get their af­fairs in or­der and look at things in a dif­fer­ent light, but with the cri­sis hang­ing over some farm­ers heads, some be­lieve they’re worth more dead than alive, but don’t reach out.

Troy Bish­opp works at the Madi­son County Soil and Water Con­ser­va­tion Dis­trict and is a dairy farmer who said he has met other farm- ers in the com­mu­nity who were on the edge.

“I’ve sat at ta­bles and my ears have been open. I’ve been through a few real emo­tional farm vis­its and they think ‘This may be it. I’ve been farm­ing for 35 years and I can’t make the call.’ There’s a stigma for ask­ing for help,” Bish­opp said.

NY Far­mNet Farm Fam­ily Con­sul­tant Erica Leub­ner said she was work­ing with a younger farmer and the­words he­was us­ing were set­ting off some red­flags for her.

“‘All alone,’ ‘hope­less,’ ‘no one cares,’ ‘I have no help.’ I came right out and asked him,” Leub­ner said. “He said that day he drove out to the mid­dle of the field with his truck and just put his head on the steer­ing wheel. And I asked him if he had a gun in his truck and he said he would never do that to his fam­ily.”

By start­ing the con­ver­sa­tion, Leub­ner was able to get the farmer to open up and start talk­ing to him and let him know she would lis­ten.

Gene and Anne re­cently at­tended a pre­sen­ta­tion by Cor­nell Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion with NY Far­mNet to dis­cuss get­ting help for farm­ers in a cri­sis sit­u­a­tion, whether it be fi­nan­cial or emo­tional.

By call­ing 1-800-547-3276, farm­ers can speak con­fi­den­tially with Far­mNet staff mem­bers who have knowl­edge in the agri­cul­tural field to help them find the best path for them.

“I grewup on a dairy farm and have a masters in so­cial work,” Leub­ner said. “My part on the team is to help with the fam­ily piece. Per­sonal well-be­ing, con­flict, stress. Withmy back­ground, I can of­fer a lot of farm­ers who don’t want to ini­tially talk about their prob­lems.”

“We are com­pletely free and con­fi­den­tial to any farmer in New York state and you will al­ways get a real per­son when you call,” Pro­gram Co­or­di­na­tor Kate Downes said. “We started in the 1980s in re­sponse to the farm cri­sis then. It’s cycli­cal, un­for­tu­nately, but we help­with fi­nan­cial, busi­ness plan­ning, tran­si­tion­ing the farm, stress man­age­ment and fam­ily com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

With low profits, pil­ing bills and the threat of fore­clo­sure, many are wor­ried about dairy farm­ers’ well­be­ing.

“Farm­ers don’t want to pay $250 an hour for a con­sul­tant. We’re see­ing peo­ple who are over­whelmed and are won­der­ing how they’re go­ing to get out of this mess,” Leub­ner said. “A fi­nan­cial con­sul­tant and my­self went to a far­mand this was some- one who was sui­ci­dal when the ini­tial call came in.”

Leub­ner said they worked with the farmer in cri­sis to help sort out what he owed. When he was able to see it all andw hat needed to be done, it brought him some relief.

When it came to longterm so­lu­tions, Gene said the public doesn’t owe farm­ers a liv­ing, but those in the gov­ern­ment need to step up. Mon­ica said part of the prob­lem is the peo­ple who think they un­der­stand farm­ing prac­tices and end up di­min­ish­ing what farm­ers do in a num­ber of ways, whether they’re in pol­i­tics or a spe­cial in­ter­est group.

“I’d like to see any DFA head boss or any politi­cians come in here and take care off 200-plus cows and know that when you turn the lights on and start the day, you’ve al­ready lost money,” Gene said.

CHARLES PRITCHARD - ONEIDA DAILY DIS­PATCH

Anne Mer­ri­man pets Missy the cow at Granny Anne Farm on March 30, 2018.

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