Reedsburg dairy farmers struggle with COVID-19

Reedsburg dairy farmers struggle with COVID-19

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Jamie milks cow

Jamie Haag milks cows on his operation in Reedsburg.

Dairy farmers have had it rough the past couple of years with low milk prices contributing to decreasing milk checks. With restaurants and schools shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, its led to an even sharper drop in the demand for milk.

After seeing prices rise to about $17 to $18 per hundredweight, 100 pounds of milk, last fall for about two months, Jodi Behn said prices have hit even lower than what it’s been in the last two years.

Behn said future market milk prices for this June and July are between $12 per hundred pounds of milk, compared to $14 per hundred weight the last couple of years when milk prices were low. She said April 8 the 80-herd operation she owns with her husband, three children and her husband’s parents in Reedsburg hasn’t been told to dump milk, something other farmers have been told to do with the effects of the pandemic.

“We pray every day we don’t have to dump our milk,” Behn said. “So far everything has been going on as scheduled.”

IN DEPTH: Area farms continue to struggle

Like Behn, Jamie Hagg hasn’t been told to dump his milk from his processing company but the cooperative his operation works with told all its members in a letter it would deduct $1.50 per hundredweight from the next milk check because it had too much milk and had to sell it at a heavy discounted price, along with the plants not pushing out any of its products.

“Instead of cutting one farm off, they are spreading it out throughout the whole co-op so we’re all affected I guess in that sense,” he said.

Haag co-owns a 180 to 200-cow operation in Reedsburg split between his parents and brother, which ships between 370,000 to 400,000 pounds of milk per month.

He said every dollar off is about $4,000 lost from the total check, he said. Losing that amount of money, even for one month, he said is “very stressful,” as he still has bills to pay. The operation also sells beef, which provides a small profit, he said.

“You just try to get by,” Haag said.

IN DEPTH: Oversupply of milk, low prices cause concern for area dairy farmers

To make every dollar count, the Behn’s focus on nutrition, care and crop work to enhance every cow on their farm. However, the Behn’s received a letter from Foremost Farms asking its members to reduce their milk production as best they can with the market uncertainty caused by the coronavirus.

According to a March 30 article in the Baraboo News Republic, the letter tells members “now is the time to consider a little extra culling of your herds, or drying off some cows early,” and “to be prepared for scenarios that would require our members to dump milk on member farms, ship milk to digestors, or dispose of in some other manner.”

Foremost Farms asks members to reduce milk supply as a precaution

Behn said the news was “tough to swallow.”

“You just can’t shut the cows off,” Behn said. “You can’t tell them to not give as much milk. You just have to deal with what you are given.”

Behn said they haven’t tried to sell their herd because of low beef prices with the markets taking less cattle, mainly with the meat packing and processing plants closing due to the virus.

“It’s getting to the point where markets are shutting down and you have to call to make sure you can sell animals instead of always just taking them to the market,” she said. “Now you have to make sure there are buyers at the market to buy the animal.”

The key to making it through the tough time is keeping a positive attitude and outlook, she said.

“We just deal with it, that’s just the way it always is,” Behn said. “Things have been tight for a few years now so we are used to making every dollar count.”

Editor's Note: This article was updated April 27 to correct information on how much money Jamie Haag’s operation loses from the total milk check for every dollar off per hundredweight.

Baraboo News Republic reporter Bridget Cooke contributed to this report.

Follow Erica Dynes on Twitter @EDynes_CapNews or contact her at 608-393-5346.

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