Nobody wants to talk about selling the cows. For the men and women who dairy farm because they truly love cows, donating a kidney would be easier than selling the cows. There's something intangible about the relationship between a dairy farmer and his or her herd.

I accepted one of my most difficult assignments last week - a story about farmers selling their cows. I had to ask these farmers to talk about something I can't even stomach thinking about.

Tears rolled down my face while listening to Tracy Becker talk about how hard it was to sell their cows. I understand exactly what she meant when she said their cows were like family. I can't imagine the sleepless nights she and Ed must have spent wrestling with their decision - for their sake, for their children's sake, and for their cows' sake. Selling the cows isn't just a business transaction.

There's been a lot of talk for the past nine months about the crisis our industry is facing. Up until this point, I've just accepted the low milk price for what it is - a low milk price. Every one of us knows that the milk price cycles; it's something we accepted when we started milking cows.

But, now, I've had enough. No offense to our senior farmers, but it's one thing for low milk prices to prompt a dairy farmer to retire a year or two before his or her time. It's another thing all together for low prices to kill a dairy farmer's dream just as it's taking shape.

Ed and Tracy Becker started out with a plan just like ours - and many other young producers' - buy cows, pay the cows off, then buy a farm, and, hopefully one day pay the farm off. I'm guessing they used an average milk price of $13.50/cwt. to project their long-range cash flows - just like we did.

At our first Dairy Profit Team meeting two years ago, our advisors confidently assured us $16 per hundredweight was the new norm, we were only using $13.50 to be cautious. We'd never see $12 milk again, they said.

I'd be happy with $12 milk right now.

Starting from scratch in this industry is hard enough as it is. Finding a farm with a milking facility to rent is like finding a needle in a haystack. The odds of finding a farm to buy are worse than the odds of finding the real Elvis alive and well in Las Vegas. You'd like to put in a parlor? Sorry, you'll have to wait 10 years until you can make it cash flow. Wanna go on vacation? That doesn't cash flow either. Dairy farming is a capital-intense venture with limited entry opportunities. Low milk prices only exacerbate the situation.

I think it's probably safe to say that most of us beginning farmers are perched in a pretty precarious place - financially, emotionally and physically. We try to stay focused on our long-term goals, as we were advised, rather than dwelling on the current situation, but it's hard not to worry when the checkbook is as skinny as it is. If this had been a bad crop year... If there had been a major breakdown... If the people and businesses we do business with weren't so understanding... I don't like to think about all the "ifs", because any one of those "ifs" could shake us right off our branch.

What I am thinking about is the big picture. We're losing good producers - young producers - who are the future of our industry. I want there to be a dairy industry in our country in 20 years so that if our children fall in love with dairy cattle and decide they'd like to farm, they can - hopefully, with a dairy farmer's daughter or son at their side.

I've heard and read a lot of suggestions for fixing our broken industry. Here's my two-cents:

As we consider fixing our supply and/or killing more cows, let's also take a closer look at the way our milk is priced. I'll be the first to admit that I don't fully understand milk pricing. There was no Dairy Pricing 101 offered when I was in college. But I am trying to learn more about the process that determines our paycheck and I do understand basic free market principles. The function of price is to ration existing supply. If our farm gate price was based on actual retail prices, instead of speculative exchange prices, we'd see supply and demand balance out a lot faster.

We might still need a way to reduce supply quickly when demand drops quickly, but CWT or any other system we implement will be much more effective if farm gate and retail prices move together.

If you've got an idea or an opinion, voice it. Some of the most intelligent and innovative people I know are dairy farmers. Right now we're in the middle of a national brainstorming session - every idea is worth hearing. Eventually our industry's leaders need to sort through all these ideas and come up with a plan.

The organization and implementation of the CWT program proved that our industry can work together. The National Milk Producers Federation Annual Meeting is in November. Email your cooperative's NMPF board member and share your ideas - board members are listed on the NMPF Web site (http://www.nmpf.org/about_nmpf/BOD). There are some great ideas out there, but they won't do any good if they never leave the breakfast table.

If you don't have an opinion, I suggest you develop one - unless you're happy with the current milk price.

My belief is that if we're going to make changes to our industry on a national level it needs to happen through our cooperatives and the NMPF.

If we don't make any changes, I'm afraid a lot more of us will be selling our cows.

Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 70 cows near Melrose, Minn., with help from their 2-year-old son, Dan, and their infant daughter, Monika. When she's not farming, she's writing for the Dairy Star. Sadie can be reached at gsfrericks@meltel.net.