Being creative in the face of adversity
As much as I don’t want to admit it, the drought is very real. I have a slightly hard time talking about it, because for me, it still seems like it might go away if I don’t acknowledge it. As a child I remember hearing about droughts and feeling sad, but not having any idea the devastation it was causing to farm families who were experiencing it.
My dad is a plumber.
I married a farmer.
Just when I thought I might have learned everything my husband has to teach me, a new lesson is overturned. The good news is it has been 24 years since the last drought in this area, and we remain hopeful for next year, and that we will get through this year.
The bad news
The bad news is, there are too many who won’t make it through this year, families who are losing their livelihood because their crops didn’t grow at all, and neither did anyone else’s, so they have no way to feed their cows, and no choice but to sell them all, and that is heart breaking.
I have always been so proud of my husband and all his knowledge, which allows us to be basically self-sufficient. He has had some amazing teachers, veterinarians, nutritionists, other industry professionals, and has farmed his entire life, he has soaked up everything he could like a sponge.
This year, we planted enough corn for silage, which is the entire corn plant all chopped up, and enough corn for shell corn, which is just the kernels of corn ground up for easy digestion by our cows. We were feeling pretty good about our feed situation this spring, but because of the drought, we will only have enough corn for silage, which won’t be the quality we are used to seeing, and no corn for shelling.
For us, this means we now have to buy shell corn, which is scarcer than usual and getting to be very costly. This might be ok if the rest of the commodities we use weren’t also going up in price considerably at the same time while our milk pay price is staying about the same. The hard facts to face are that most of the country is suffering from drought conditions, so what crops farmers took off last year that we all depend on until the next crop will not be 100% replaced for next year, meaning they are low in supply and still in high demand. Commodity markets run on supply and demand, as long as the supply can meet or exceed the demands the market stays stable or can even drop, but as soon as the supply starts to drop below the demand, markets start to change, and sometimes very fast. The reason milk price isn’t moving upward quickly is because we had such a mild winter and ended up with a surplus of dairy products. A surplus makes our milk price drop and since we have been using up that surplus slowly while still producing more milk our market is staying stable.
Rethinking the way we do everything
What this all means is we have to start to get creative. We have been securing and finding alternative feeds for our cows. One thing we have tried with great success in the past is potatoes. The starch in potatoes can replace some of the starch in shell corn, and costs considerably less. We have planted later, alternative crops to make up for our losses in forages, sorghum and oats are some of the crops we and others are depending on to help us through.
Although we are going to be okay, we will be making less milk, and still have to do the same amount of work, which means the same amount of expenses, and those expenses need to come from somewhere.
Corners have to be cut everywhere.
We have a special rate with our electric company where if we use most of our electricity at off-peak times we get a better rate, so laundry, cooking, cleaning all happen more often at off-peak times. We hire our cousin to chop our corn, and he is looking for a bigger head for his chopper so he can do three rows instead of only two. Insurance deductibles are being upped to lower premiums, and family living is being cut wherever it can.
What we will not sacrifice
All this being said, there is one thing we can still control, a place where we will never cut corners, and that thing is quality.
The quality of our milk, quality of life for our cows and the quality of our work input are very important to us. Yes, our cows will make less milk, we don’t have a choice when it comes to that, but the milk that leaves this farm every day will still be high quality because we have a commitment to our family and families around the world to provide them with a safe, delicious, nutritious product every day.
We still love and appreciate our cows, the drought is not their fault, and the way we see it, we are in this together, we and our cows will make it through. Work ethic will never change. Dairy farmers know they have no control over the price we get paid for milk, but we all keep working as hard as we can because even though there are bad years we know there will be good years again, and we know there is a very hungry world depending on us. Things will get better, our family will still get to farm for another year, and we are learning so much about ourselves, farming, and commodity markets, so all is not a total loss.
And, most definitely, we are enjoying the challenge of still making high quality milk on a tighter budget and still succeeding every day. My parents always told me I could be anything I wanted to be, as long as I was happy and as long as I gave it everything I have. I’m still happy, and I’m still giving dairy farming my all, for my family and for all those who depend on us.