It’s hard to look at the “Support Dairy, Dairy Strong” signs dotting our rural communities in northeast Wisconsin — without wincing in pain. While recognizing the well-meaning efforts of those believing campaigns such as this may alleviate ongoing dairy woes, we must not fall into a mindset in believing gulping down a few extra glasses of milk on “Milk Mondays” (or any other days of the week for that matter), or eating more cheese, will make a bite into the already 1.4-billion-pound cheese surplus that the United States has currently. It’s time to recognize that what ails dairy, in its demise, is a systematic, inside job.
Ben Brancel, former DATCP Secretary, and former Governor Walker did their parts in the troubled dairy crisis, in their push and promotion of the “30/20 plan” that flooded the market with 30 billion pounds of milk, early in 2017.
Brancel vanished off the landscape, along with many of Wisconsin’s small dairies that were already struggling to survive. Small farmers remained true to their farmer allegiance, despite the writing on the wall. As small farms failed, farmer suicides rates skyrocketed, with farmer suicides in the U.S. double the national average by May 2019.
One needn’t look further than the vertical integration that has already taken place in the pork, beef, and poultry industries, to understand that Dairy is just following suit with the rest of the U.S. food production in its consolidation. The pandemic exposed our supply-chain vulnerability, and the true threats founded when our food supply is in the hands of a few corporate monopolized giants. Big breaks—when we need it most.
As Dairy positions itself for the few moguls that will secure its production, our mid-sized farms will suffer next, and the consequences will be felt in farming communities throughout our nation.
The pandemic has set the table. The choice is ours. Real change must occur in our communities that can once again recognize the value of our small farmers and the true food security they bring to our rural communities and beyond. We need to put our support into a strong food system that again values people, animals, our land, and natural resources, and does not leave our farmers and our farming communities behind.
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