WITHEE, Wis. – Nearly 50 dairy producers from throughout central Wisconsin traveled to Premier Livestock Auction near Withee, Wis., April 27 to learn more about the Dairy Pricing Association (DPA). The meeting was led by DPA representative Tom Olson, who shared the idea behind the DPA with those in attendance.
    The meeting at Withee was held at the request of Greenwood, Wis., dairy farmer Ken Shirk, who milks about 45 cows.
    “The whole concept of buying cheese off the market to give to humanitarian causes, to raise the price of milk really spoke to me,” Ken said. “It takes farmer involvement to make it work, to help ourselves.”
    After speaking with Olson, Ken made a few calls to get the ball rolling in planning a meeting in his area, speaking with other dairy farmers and representatives of local businesses and milk cooperatives.
    One local business that got involved in promoting the meeting was Clarco Farmers’ Cooperative, a milk marketing agency based in Thorp, Wis. Irvin Shirk serves as the president of the board for the cooperative, and said the group pools the milk of patrons to find a market, allowing smaller farmers to reap the same benefits as larger dairy producers. Clarco is responsible for marketing the milk from about 70 patrons.
    Olson met with the Clarco Board of Directors, detailing how the DPA works in regards to the marketing aspect of milk.
    “As a group, we decided that the DPA was a good thing to support, and to tell our members about,” Irvin said. “We decided to share the information with our members, but let them decide as individuals whether or not they wanted to participate and sign up.”
    Olson was ecstatic about the turnout from the meeting held in Withee, and the questions asked by the producers in attendance.
    “The atmosphere was great; it was energetic with a good bunch of people,” Olson said. “Holy moly, they asked some good questions.”
    The DPA has gained several new members from that meeting, and Olson expects more attendees will sign up in the near future.
    “That group was eager to learn and eager to share,” Olson said. “We’ll see more members coming out of that meeting.”
    In the past couple of months, DPA has gained about 30 new members, Olson said. However, he said several members have sold out, so the overall numbers have not grown in terms of membership.
    “We have some farmers who have seen their milk check pretty much zero out,” Olson said. “So we get dropped from the milk check assignment. They are still members, but they aren’t contributing right now. These are tough times, these prices are really hurting these guys.”
    Despite the continued economic downturn in the dairy industry, Olson tries to stay positive, and reminds DPA members and producers to soldier on as best they can, continuing to try to grow the association and positively affect milk prices.
    “We need to stay the course,” Olson said. “We need to keep having meetings and keep working to bring more producers on board.”
    One area Olson is hoping to work at growing is interest and commitment from larger dairy producers.
    “This program can benefit everyone, small producers and large producers,” Olson said. “When the price goes up, it goes up for all of us, regardless of how much milk you ship.”
    Olson encourages DPA members to get out and spread the word, talking to their neighboring farmers, particularly those larger dairy farmers.
    “We have one member who worked on a 2,500-cow dairy for eight or nine years,” Olson said. “He’s going to be talking to his former employer. I hope that gives us a better idea on what the larger producers are thinking.”
    Patty Edelburg milks 120 cows with her family near Amherst, Wis., and is serving as the vice president of the National Farmers Union. Edelburg attended the DPA meeting.
    “Up until about a month ago, I hadn’t heard of the DPA, so I wanted to attend for my own information,” Edelburg said. “It was a good meeting with a lot of people there not only interested in the pricing aspect of the program, but also in the humanitarian aspect.”
    Edelburg said she felt that the DPA is a great concept, and could do great things, but getting people to sign on during times of already shrinking margins is a difficult prospect.
    “It’s really too bad that this couldn’t be tied into some type of federal mandate to help curb over-supply,” Edelburg said. “But that is unlikely to ever happen, as most do not want further federal involvement in the milk pricing system.”
    Irvin summed up his personal thoughts on the idea of the DPA, and the importance of farmers working together.
    “This is something that dairymen can do for themselves,” he said. “They can do something on their own to try to help positively affect the price they receive for their milk.”
    Ken concurred.
    “The more farmers we can get educated and involved, the more we keep spreading the word about this simple, straightforward program, the more we can help ourselves by working to raise our prices,” Ken said.