September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Representative Leon Lillie, from North St. Paul, Al Doty, Representative from the Pierz area, and Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher took the time for a farm tour and lunch where local dairy producers and industry representatives gathered to talk about current dairy issues.
The morning began with Dean and Clare showing the attendees the facilities at their rural Pierz dairy operation, started in 1880 by Dean's great-great grandfather. Dean is the fifth generation to farm at the site. Dean and Clare also harvest 510 acres of corn, alfalfa and grass.
The tour included stops at the tiestall barn - built in 1976 - where Dean and Clare are at full capacity milking 81 cows.
"The only way we can make a decent living is by keeping our barn full," Dean said.
They stressed the importance of milking as many cows as they can - with limited ability to cull - in today's economy, but they also expressed their struggle of needing a new milking facility but not being able to afford it with the current time of uncertainty.
"Our barn is at the end of its life, but we just make due with it for now," Clare said.
The calf, heifer and dry cow facilities were also toured, along with the 20KW wind turbine Dean and Clare installed in January of 2008. Although the turbine was put up with the idea of harvesting available wind energy to offset some energy costs on the farm, Dean and Clare have not seen a lot of return from it so far. They do, however, see it as a wise investment for the future.
Though Speaker Anderson Kelliher is no stranger to the dairy scene - having grown up on her parents' dairy farm in Blue Earth County and serving as a County Dairy Princess in 1985 - she and the other legislators marveled at the dairy operation and had questions for Dean and Clare.
Lillie was especially interested in the financial investment of each cow, along with each individual cow's contribution to the farm over its lifetime. He was surprised to learn the difference in income from cow to cow each year because of their production differences.
Future plans were an issue Dean and Clare continually brought up throughout the tour. With none of the four kids - Daniel, Rachael, Tony and Jessica - showing interest in taking over the farm, Dean and Clare have had to consider how to update their farm with that in mind.
"If our kids don't want to farm we're going to find someone who does," Dean said. "We have to have facilities that are able to sell, and right now we don't have that."
But with the current milk price, Dean and Clare and other producers at the event expressed their concern with how they are going to be able to create that sustainability for their farms when they can barely break even now.
"With milk prices being what they are, things we planned to get done will just have to wait," Dean said.
Other local producers also voiced their frustrations about being in the same situation as Dean and Clare. They are not able to invest in improving or expanding their facilities, which means they are not investing in their local communities for construction or other businesses; it puts everyone at a standstill.
After the tour, attendees met at a local café in Pierz for lunch and continued discussion.
"We just got to see a farm in transition," Doty said in his address to those at lunch. "The issues are not just about the cows and the milk, it's about the people who farm and who are affected by farming. We need to keep these people around because they affect local cities."
The future of dairy and the strength of Minnesota's resources were the main focus of Kelliher's address and recap of the tour.
"We have challenges but we can do things at the state level. Replacement of operations, working with younger generations and research are what we can focus on for improvement," Kelliher said. "I believe there's hope because there are young people out there that want to farm and there are older generations that want to help them. We're in a place equipped for dairy farming, but you don't get there by just sitting around."
Kelliher touched on the state's limited ability to help with the national milk price but went on to say that Minnesota can do things to help start improving the situation for the future.
Ideas about new research facilities were issues Kelliher planned to take back to the State Legislature. That, along with improved higher education methods, was discussed as a solution so farmers would have better resources to rely on in the future.
Attracting cows back to Minnesota was also a topic of discussion. Both legislators and producers agreed that this is an area right for growing crops and harvesting other resources necessary for dairy farming, and cows should be here rather than in the desert states where feed from the Midwest has to be shipped to them.
"We're looking at how the state can help support dairies by providing the best for the future of farming," Kelliher said.
About the event
Minnesota Milk has held seven Legislative Farm Tours so far this summer and has four more scheduled for different state legislators to attend throughout Minnesota.
"These tours are something tangible for the legislators," Bob Lefebvre, Minnesota Milk executive director said. "These problems are not things in people's heads, they're real and affecting real people."[[In-content Ad]]