Dairy farms are declining in Wisconsin, including in Eau Claire, Chippewa and Dunn counties, which are down a combined 27 herds compared with the start of 2017.
By: Ben Rueter
According to numbers provided by the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, slightly more than 500 total dairy herds were lost over last year in the state.
In Eau Claire County the total herds lost compared with last year is 10. As of Jan 1, the county has 116 herds. In 2013, the total number of herds rested at 165.
Chippewa County had a decline of 13 herds. At the moment, Chippewa County is reported to have 263 herds. In 2013, the county had a total of 349 herds.
Dunn County saw a decrease of four herds. There is a total of 136 herds currently. In 2013, Dunn County had 191.
Cadott farmer George Polzin said this is as tight a situation as he has seen in years.
“This is as tough as it gets,” he said.
According to Polzin, small and large farms are feeling the squeeze, and the small farms are the ones that are typically going out of business. With no positive cash flow, the smaller farms can’t keep up and disappear faster than the large farms.
“The dairy industry as it is today is not a sustainable industry,” he said. “Something has to change.”
Jerry Clark, agriculture agent-department head for the Chippewa County UW-Extension office, said two major factors are related to this decline. One is that the industry is seeing a generational shift, he said, with the average age of a farmer climbing.
“It’s pushing into the upper 50s and lower 60s in age,” he said.
Another factor is that some farmers are struggling to keep pace financially. As a result, Clark said young farmers are looking for off-farm income and cutting costs on the farm as much as possible.
“It’s expensive to get into if you are not from a family farm,” he said.
If a farmer can’t transition the operation to someone else such as a family member, the land might be sold along with the cattle.
In the short term, Clark said, profitability will be a struggle and dairy farms may continue to decline.
Wisconsin has more than 8,800 dairy herds registered with DATCP as of Jan. 1.
The data provided by DATCP only shows milk cow operations, which excludes sheep and goat farms.