In the wake of cheese producer Arla Foods announcing it will stop buying milk from 11 dairy farms in Wisconsin effective July 1, the president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union offered his thoughts on the situation.
“As part of a three-generation dairy farm myself, I know what the cows, the land and the way of life mean to my family,” Darin Von Ruden said. “I sincerely hope that all affected farmers will be able to find a new buyer for their milk.”
Von Ruden expressed frustration that dairy farmers have been placed in these circumstances.
“This situation is not normal, and it is not necessary,” he said. “This is the result of a failed government policy that incentivizes overproduction, and then leaves farmers to weather the fallout alone — being picked off one by one.
“Congress had the opportunity in the 2014 Farm Bill to prevent this train wreck, by passing the Margin Protection Program with the Market Stabilization feature left intact. Instead, members of Congress deliberately voted for the Goodlatte-Scott Amendment that removed Market Stabilization at the 11th hour, at the urging of organizations like the International Dairy Foods Association and the Dairy Business Association.”
The Wisconsin Farmers Union is urging Congress not to pass any farm bill that does not include a system of oversupply management.
“We owe it to dairy farmers and to taxpayers to make this common-sense change,” Von Ruden said.
Von Ruden’s comments come on the heels of a series of meetings held throughout Wisconsin regarding the Canadian supply-management system that garnered intense interest among dairy farmers.
Von Ruden recalled a comment by Canadian dairy farmer Murray Sherk at one of those meetings. Sherk said, “A situation where farmers just get dropped from their milk processor would never happen in Canada. Every dairy farmer would take a half percent or one percent cut to account for the loss of a market. No group of farmers would be singled out to shoulder the burden for everyone else.”
Arla Foods, headquartered in Denmark, is the fifth-largest dairy company in the world and a cooperative owned by more than 12,500 dairy farmers, according to its website. The company’s U.S. headquarters is in Basking Ridge, N.J., and Hollandtown Dairy in Kaukauna is the only farm it owns in the U.S.
The Wisconsin Farmers Union indicated it is troubled that Arla, which internationally is a cooperative, sent termination notices to Wisconsin farmers. The WFU said it appears U.S. farmers who ship to Arla are not full members of the cooperative like their European counterparts.
“Cooperatives exist to work in the best interests of their members, and a core cooperative principle is equal treatment of all members,” Von Ruden said. “It seems that these farmers were not co-op members and therefore did not benefit from those principles.”
Von Ruden urged all dairy cooperative members to bring forward resolutions demanding that any adjustments in co-op milk supply be borne by all members equally, rather than just a few, or allow some members to expand while others are cut off.
The Wisconsin Farmers Union also has urged all co-op members to bring forward resolutions at their respective cooperatives in favor of a nationwide supply-management program. The WFU also is encouraging all dairy farmers, whether shipping to a private buyer or to a cooperative, to demand a minimum 90-day notice of any termination.