Dairy farmers aren’t the bad guys -- Grace Anne Ingham

January 27, 2019

It is easy to see the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association as the “bad guy,” irresponsibly avoiding government regulation and harming water quality. Easy, but naive.

Wisconsin has experienced a distressing rise in farmer suicides as people are crushed by debt and shame, and in 2018 we lost a record-breaking 638 herds. Dairy farmers operate on slim to nonexistent profit margins, and costs of runoff prevention technologies could be their tipping point. Dairy prices and consumption have been declining since 2015 -- the nation has a 1.4 billion pound cheese surplus, and we make 27 percent of American cheese.

Leave command-and-control regulations behind and join the 21st century with market incentives for change such as compliance-dependent tax or fee reductions. Looking forward, cheeseheads must find something else to generate pride and profit. Warming climates may bring new crops to the previously inhospitable frozen north. Dairy farming should not disappear, but reducing supply would increase prices and provide a living for remaining farmers. Critical is that people exit the industry with honor (and government support), not by taking their own lives.

Grace Anne Ingham, Madison

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