At least three suicides by dairy producers have occurred this year in Californiaâ€™s Kings County, which adjoins Tulare County and makes up part of the nationâ€™s No. 1 milk-producing region.
Financial stress is not only widespread in Californiaâ€™s San Joaquin Valley but across the U.S. There are reports that some dairies are losing $100,000 per month. Many expect this yearâ€™s dairy farm troubles to approach the severity of 2009â€™s crash-and-burn ordeal. Equity â€“ or what was left of it â€“ is vanishing, leaving many producers with little to show for years of hard work. Congress apparently doesnâ€™t care enough about the industryâ€™s woes, since it couldnâ€™t or wouldnâ€™t pass a farm bill before it recessed a couple of weeks ago.
So, itâ€™s not unreasonable to ask if dairying is worth the hassle anymore.
I posed the question to Charlie de Groot, a third-generation dairy producer from Fresno, Calif., and one ofÂ Dairy Todayâ€™s 2012 Dollars & Sense columnists.Â His family operation milks 2,400 cows.
«In the short term, no, dairying isÂ notÂ worth the hassle, but we canâ€™t just close the doors and move on to something else,» de Groot told me. «Itâ€™s not easy to get in and out of. A majority of dairy operations are family-owned and -operated, and so it isnâ€™t just a job that weÂ can quit. Itâ€™s a lifestyle that weâ€™ve invested our time, talents and treasure into.»
Thatâ€™s a pretty sobering assessment from a man whoâ€™s only 33 years old, with a wife and four children.Â Makes me want to look for help and hope. Which brings me to where I am today â€“ at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis.
World Dairy Expo is the dairy industryâ€™s show of shows. This dairy Disneyland at the Alliant Energy Center brings back the shine to the industry, if only for a few days. From Oct. 2 through Oct. 6, more than 65,000 people from 90 countries will visit Expo. Theyâ€™ll come for the cattle show judging, award winners, educational seminars, the best in cattle genetics â€“ and so much more.
Some 860 animal health, nutrition, equipment, marketing and dairy service companies will share their best and latest products and services. Millions of dollars have been invested in those companies and on these grounds. In the Madison area alone, the show has an estimated impact of $15 million on the economy. Behind the scenes, there will be more high-stakes meetings than most people would ever guess.
World Dairy Expo reflects the industryâ€™s expertise, technology and commitment. It reveals the incredible focus of driven, intelligent people. It proves the U.S. dairy industry still dazzles, leads and performs.
World Dairy Expo may seem a world removed from the dairy you face every morning in Californiaâ€™s San Joaquin Valley, Idahoâ€™s Magic Valley or the Texas Panhandle. It may be the furthest thing from your mind during that stressful meeting with the lender whoâ€™s ready to cut you loose. But maybe thereâ€™s something here for you â€“ some thread of an idea, some possible product or service, some person you meet. You might click with an exhibitor who convinces you to take a closer look at doing business in his or her state. Maybe something you find here will restore your belief that dairying is still worth the hassle.
World Dairy Expo is also a reminder that youâ€™re not in this alone. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of dairy producers here this week who can share in your thoughts as no one else can. Like you, theyâ€™re part of a noble profession and an essential cog in Americaâ€™s enviable food production system.
Even though Charlie de Groot wonâ€™t be here at World Dairy Expo this week, this show is for him â€“ and thousands more who struggle and hope, just as he does.
«My hope is that ultimately dairying is worth the hassle, and that Iâ€™m able to see future generations of our family be able to continue this lifelong journey of dairying,» de Groot said. «I donâ€™t think our world can survive without dairy products, so Iâ€™ll remain optimistic that this industry will rebound and our operations will become profitable again.»
Do you agree with de Groot? Email me atÂ email@example.comÂ and let me know what you think.