7 News Special Report: 'What Farmers Face'Posted: Updated:
The plight of the dairy farmer is not a new one, but it's possibly the worst it has been in generations. In the first of a two part special report, 7 News reporter Garrett Domblewski tells us "What Farmers Face." You can see part one Tuesday on 7 News at 6, 10 and 11.
It's a dire situation for many dairy farmers. A prolonged stretch of low milk prices has many of them worried for the future.
"At 14 and 13 dollar milk, there will be no small farms left," said Ed Walldroff, owner of Homestead Fields.
Right now, farmers are getting just over $17 per hundredweight of milk that they sell. That's basically a break even price.
In the summer of 2014, business was booming and milk prices were nearly at $26 per hundredweight. Then they fell off a cliff, bottoming out at $14.50.
"Extended periods of depressed pricing, below break even, is impossible for anyone and everyone," said Blake Gendebien, owner of Twin Mill Farms.
It used to be farmers could count on a cycle - roughly 3 years of high prices followed by 3 years of low prices. They're now in a 4th, going on a 5th year of lows.
To make any kind of a living, farmers produce more milk, contributing to the problem.
"It's like a double-edged sword. What do we do as dairy farmers when the prices are high? We make more milk. What do we do as dairy farmers when the prices are low? We make more milk. It's the only thing that we can control," said Gendebien.
Gendebien owns a farm in Lisbon and sits on the board of directors for Agri-Mark, a dairy co-op that buys milk from more than 1,000 family farms in the Northeast.
Agri-Mark made some waves with its farmers earlier this month. Along with their paychecks, the co-op sent farmers a letter that listed a number of resources for handling stress and financial issues, as well as the phone number for the suicide hotline.
And suicide really is becoming more common among farmers. A 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people working in agricultural jobs had the highest rate of suicide among a number of other large job fields.
Gendebien elaborated on the position that farmers are in when they're close to losing their farms.
"If you're a part of a multi-generational farm, it eats your heart out that you're the generation that didn't make it work," he said.
For Gendebien to make it work, he expanded his farm, adding more than 200 cows. But that's a luxury not every farm can afford.
For others ways to stay afloat include selling more products, renting land to larger farms, or becoming more energy efficient.
"It's always been tough. You've gotta keep changing to stay in business, 'cause if I did things the way I did 20 years ago, I wouldn't be here," said Mike Kiechle, farmer.
Despite tough times, agriculture is still an economic powerhouse in the north country.
Jefferson County's economic development team is looking for ways to grow that strength. One way: promoting the county across the ocean. Find out more in part two of "What Farmers Face."