Some of the lowest milk prices in recent history are causing dairy farmers across the country to sell their cows and stop production, but one man in eastern Iowa says he’s still making things work on his small dairy farm.
Loras Kruse has been dairy farming since he was a kid. He bought his current farm near Holy Cross in 1990.
He said he’s lived through many ups and downs, but the past two years have been challenging financially.
On a 90 degree summer day, he has more to do than just milk the cows in the morning and the evening. He feeds the calves, bring the cows in to the barn to rest and more. His job is 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year, no matter how much he’s getting paid.
“The milk price has been going down for roughly about the last two years significantly,” Kruse said.
He’s making about $14.50 per 100 pounds of milk. In comparison, back in 2012 he was getting paid about $20.
“We’re still getting our bills paid and there’s a little bit left at the end, but not as much as there had been,” said Kruse.
It means that he has to be frugal and avoid buying what he considers to be “luxuries.”
Kruse explained, “you’re not out buying new or used pieces of machinery and stuff like that. You fix more of your older machinery and try to make it through til your times get better again.”
He’s able to save money by growing his own feed on the farm, and he can make some money by raising steer for meat or selling bulls to other farmers.
He said, “it’s pretty much a self-sufficient operation as much as possible.”
Kruse’s son Adam Kruse helps out his dad when he’s not working his full-time factory job in Peosta. “I always come out to the farm and I help milk at night,” he said.
Adam hopes to take over the farm some day, even with his knowledge of the current prices.
“Its all I’ve done since I was born and raised here,” he said. “I’ve never lived anywhere else until last year when I bought a house a couple miles away up town.”
He’s learned from his father how to make it in this industry: saving when you have money. Adam explained, “that’s why I have a job off the farm or whatever so I can try to build a little capital and build some money,” for the bad years.
Kruse family friend Loras Link, a seemingly popular first name in Dubuque County, was a former dairy farmer himself. He lived through a tough period in 2009.
“I think it was under $10 (per 100 pounds) for awhile,” Link said.
It was the stress and a cancer diagnosis that led him to sell his cows and stop production in April of 2011. It’s a decision he doesn’t regret, especially when he sees his friends struggling.
“You can see there’s not a lot of income in it and you know how much work there is involved to it and how dedicated you have to be,” Link said. “I feel bad for them.”
Kruse said he’d like to see the price go up at least about $4. “$18, $19 would be a nice rounded price to start with,” he said.
However, he doesn’t know when that could happen. Kruse said, “not in the real near future, I don’t think it’s going to be just because of the fact that there’s so much milk on the market.”
“The big ones (farms) keep getting bigger so the amount of milk that’s out there doesn’t go down just because somebody that milked 40, 50 or 60 cows got out,” Link explained.
Despite of the uncertainty, the Kruses plan to keep working, hoping for better days.
“You learn to tighten your belt a little bit right now,” said Kruse.
By: Allison Wong