As the tractor slowly came to a halt at the South Farm Showcase, a little girl hopped off her straw bale seat. Her face beamed as she ran down the steps of the trailer with her mother in tow. The warm breeze blew her golden hair as she ran and gently tugged at her mother’s hand, “Mommy, I want to milk the cow!”
The University of Missouri Block and Bridle Club advocates for the dairy industry through their various Milk-A-Cow Booth events. Lily Grant, the club’s president, is very passionate about advocating for agriculture, especially the dairy industry.
“Our main goal with the Milk-A-Cow Booth is to bring the cows out to the public so that they can learn to milk a cow, learn about the dairy industry, learn where their milk comes from, and just learn more about what is on their table and in their fridge,” Grant said.
Advocacy for the dairy industry is vital during times of hardship, which many dairy farmers are facing right now. Dairy farmers are being “milked dry” due to low milk prices, shrinking margins, and fluctuations in both domestic and global markets.
According to Farm Journal’s “Milk Business,” there are many issues that exist in the dairy industry. These issues include a weak economy, changing preferences of consumers, and an increase of almost 31 billion pounds of milk over the last decade straining process capacity. In addition, production is expected to increase to a projected 250 billion pounds by 2027, with less access to processing, and shrinking over order premiums due to large amounts of milk in the market, and a lack of capacity for that milk.
This means dairy farmers are receiving less money when they receive their milk checks. Fat demand versus harsh nonfat dry milk (NFDM) stocks and Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) pricing formulas are also issues that affect dairy farmers. Big dairies are also becoming even larger, causing a divide between large and small dairy farmers.
Many farmers, including some in Missouri, have been forced to sell out and close the doors on multi-generation family dairy farms.
Alex Boedeker, an Agricultural Education-Leadership major and third-generation farmer from Lincoln County, watched as his family decided to close the doors on the dairy side of their farming operation. As a smaller dairy farm, they milked around 80 head of cattle and sold the milk. Their dairy faced many challenges, including low milk prices, outdated technology and facilities, and various other issues.
“I believe, if I remember right, at the end the cows were just doing enough to cover their feed,” Boedeker said. “We were just breaking even and we couldn’t really go anywhere with it. My dad told me that he didn’t want me going back into the dairy industry because of all the headaches that he had to deal with, which was really hard to hear.”
Those who haven’t been forced out of the industry are still facing hard times.
Jeff Bloss, along with his wife and kids, own and run Bloss Procross, a dairy farm located in Callaway County. Over the past few years, Bloss Procross has grown, and they currently milk around 325 head of cattle. Bloss said the toughest issue they face is the prolonged lag in milk prices.
“I’ve been doing this my whole life and I’ve seen lower prices, but I’ve never seen them low for this long,” Bloss said. “The profit margins have really pushed their way in the wrong direction over the last 15 years. We’ve been in the red now for 11 months. We haven’t made a dime.”
Bloss Procross continues to push through the hard times and focus on their game plan: quality over quantity.
“We are going to focus on components in the milk — butterfat, protein, and solids. We are not going to push for more volume, but for more components to be more profitable. We are also going to really push our steers. We save our steers to grow them, but they are going to be what provides extra income.”
In addition, many in the industry believe there is an underlying issue playing a role.
Both Boedeker and Bloss believe that farmers are struggling because consumers are choosing to purchase other products, or milk alternatives, such as soy milk, almond milk, and various other “milk” products. They choose these products due to health-related reasons and personal preferences.
“People are choosing milk alternatives, and it’s hurting dairy farmers,” Boedeker said.
Dairy farmers, both large and small are taking each day as it comes. With the help of young advocates, such as the MU Block and Bridle group, dairy farmers will continue to work hard to reach out and engage consumers in the dairy industry.