What is the true value of your farm?
If your farm is like ours, you probably spent some time this winter analyzing the business of your farm. Where did you make money? Where did you spend money? How much of that money did you keep or reinvest? At the end of the day, what’s the value of your farm?
And, again, if your farm is anything like ours, a rather large percentage of the dollars that came in went right back out – to your feed mill, your employees, your mechanic, your veterinarian, your lender and all of the others you do business with.
This passing of money has a huge impact on our economy – especially our local economy, because most of us do our business close to home. According to calculations by the University of Minnesota Extension, a 200-cow dairy in Minnesota generates $1.6 million in economic activity each year.
Remember, farming is one of the only businesses that creates new wealth. All other businesses are merely recycling those dollars.
This economic impact was part of the discussion at a recent workshop I attended. The University of Minnesota Extension held a series of Ag Horizons workshops in a half-dozen counties around the state. Farmers from all types of farms were invited to engage along with folks who work in lending, regulation and other ag businesses. I participated in the workshop in Stearns County.
The economic impact numbers didn’t surprise me much. I’ve been sharing those numbers with anyone who will listen for several years now.
What I did take home with me was the discussion our workshop group had about the non-monetary impact of livestock farms. Basically, the true value of dairy farms goes way beyond dollars.
Our small towns need dairy farms, but so do our soils and our society.
Animal agriculture benefits our soils is multiple ways.
The first and most obvious – because we’re all trying to spread it right now – is manure. Manure helps us meet our crop nutrient needs without synthetic fertilizer. And adding manure to soil increases soil organic matter, which reduces soil density and compaction and increases soil aggregate stability, water infiltration  and water retention.
Livestock farms help the soil because of their increased use of perennial crops – grass hay, alfalfa and pasture. Research data on perennial crop benefits is somewhat lacking, but trials that incorporated perennial prairie strips into row cropping show perennial plants reduce soil erosion by 95% and reduce nutrient loss by 85%. It’s reasonable to assume that alfalfa, grasses and pasture do the same. We don’t always need science to prove what we have known for generations. Perennial forages are good for our land.
Our society also needs livestock.
An adage farmers like to toss around is, “Our most important crop is our kids.”
There’s no better place to learn the importance of hard work, responsibility, and entrepreneurship than on a livestock farm.
And wherever our farm kids’ futures take them, their contributions to their work will make the world better. The work ethic and skills they develop on our farms can’t be taught in schools.
Livestock kids also learn the importance of community. They connect with each other through 4-H, FFA and breed associations. Those connections around cattle and livestock help create a culture of interdependence that continues throughout life.
I’m preaching to the choir, writing this column for dairy farmers. What I, and you, and all other dairy farmers, really need to do is take this story to our fellow small business owners in town, to our elected leaders, and to our regulatory agencies.
We need to share it with our kids. Do you talk with your kids about the economic, environmental and social importance of the work you do on your farm?
And, we need to take it to heart. Livestock farmers play a critical role in weaving the fabric of rural communities. Our small towns will disappear without us. The work you and I do is essential. The true value of your farm is immeasurable.
I recently heard a communications director speak about the importance of repetition when it comes to messaging. “Repeat, repeat, repeat,” she said.
Each time we share the story of the value of animal agriculture, we’re planting a seed. You never know which of those seeds will sprout into understanding and belief.
So, keep repeating to all who need to hear it: We need livestock farmers.
    Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minnesota. They have three children – Dan, 15, Monika, 12, and Daphne, 9. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com.