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Published May 06, 2010, 07:12 AM

Letter to the editor: Low milk prices make it hard for family dairies to survive

On Tuesday and Wednesday of last week The Jamestown Sun printed articles dealing with the financial problems and the health and safety issues that are associated with the dairy industry.

By: Tracy Muske, The Jamestown Sun

On Tuesday and Wednesday of last week The Jamestown Sun printed articles dealing with the financial problems and the health and safety issues that are associated with the dairy industry.

The North Dakota Department of Agriculture statistics show that in 2009 there were 23,000 milk cows in the state. At the end of the first quarter of 2010 the number was down to 21,000 cows. The main reason for this decline is low commodity prices. Many of the smaller farms have had to sell off their herds and some of the bigger dairies have filed for bankruptcy protection. Gary Hoffman of the North Dakota Dairy Coalition says in one of the articles that he is recruiting people from outside the state and country to come here and start dairies to increase the number of milk cows. He lists low wages and low land prices as selling points.

One new dairy is the Frontier Dairy, LLC proposed by Ralph Friebel of Jamestown. This dairy planned for La-Moure County will house 28,000 animals in its confinement barns. The dairy will milk 10,000 cows and the other 16,000 will be used to create a replacement herd. They plan to build six such factory farms throughout North Dakota. If only two of the six were built they would effectively double the number of milk cows in North Dakota. Their group would own half of the state’s milk cow herd. How does doubling production or supply help to raise today’s low prices?

Hoffman says the current milk price of $14.50 to $15 per hundred weight is about the break-even point for most dairy farmers. Friebel says the Frontier Dairy can financially exist at an $11 price. Most family dairies will not survive at this low price. For years our ranchers have spoken again the consolidation in the meat packing industry. How will concentrating the ownership of the state’s dairy herd into the hands of one corporation help prices?

It is hard for the smaller local family farms to survive at these low prices. These families are our friends and neighbors. They send their children to our schools and sit beside us in our local churches or functions. The day will soon arrive when we as citizens of this state will have to decide if we want our food to come from large factory farms or the more traditional family-sized farms that made our great state.

Tracy Muske

Jamestown

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