Trend: Farms can get hurt when production increases and markets are overwhelmed

'Full-throttle agriculture'

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MILWAUKEE — It’s been called “full-throttle agriculture” — when production surges, markets buckle and farms are left tangled in the wreckage.

Chris Holman, who farms near Stevens Point, Wis., says it’s been going on for years, and it’s getting worse.

A regional director for the group Wisconsin Farmers Union, he points to the recent crisis in which dozens of dairy farms lost their milk buyer and were nearly forced out of business in a marketplace flooded with their product.

The buyer, Grassland Dairy Products of Greenwood, said it dropped the farms May 1 because it lost millions of dollars of business in Canada.

Dairy plants and farms in New York also were affected by a loss of Canadian business, prompting President Donald Trump, state and federal lawmakers to call for an investigation of trade pacts.

All but a couple of the Wisconsin farms that had contracts with Grassland since have found another milk buyer.

Yet Holman said Canada was wrongly blamed for the crisis. He and others argue the situation stemmed from U.S. agriculture running at full-speed, nonstop, regardless of the consequences.

He pointed to state programs, such as “Grow Wisconsin Dairy 30x20,” as having compounded the problem.

“Beyond pushing dairy farmers to reach 30 billion pounds of milk production a year by 2020, the initiative provides grants to improve the long-term viability of Wisconsin’s dairy industry,” Holman said.

In 2016, Wisconsin dairy farmers produced slightly more than 30 billion pounds of milk, or 3.5 billion gallons, for the first time.

While the number of Wisconsin dairy farms has been declining for years — to about 9,230 now from 14,265 in 2007 — milk production has increased as farms have become bigger and more efficient

The new production milestone came even as the global market was awash in dairy products and prices paid to farmers were depressed due to the oversupply.

“If that’s not a recipe for more of the same, I don’t know what is,” Holman said.

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