WESTBY, Wis. – The Wisconsin Farmers Union premiered a short video last month entitled “Supply Management and How It Can Save Our Rural Economy,” outlining their reasons for continued work developing a proposal in a quest for supply management within the dairy industry.
    The video, which is on YouTube, explains how supply management principles that had been in place since the implementation of the Great Depression era New Deal have been phased away over time.
    The video shares that between the years of 1948 and 2015, United States agricultural production has increased over 170%, but that growth has not necessarily been a good thing for producers. The number of farms has steadily decreased from over 6 million in 1935 to just over 2 million today. Mounting debt and decreasing farm income, fueled by overproduction, is often to blame for the demise of those farms.
    In the video, it is stated that overproduction in this country is as much an issue as food scarcity, citing the statistic that 10% of those in this country are food insecure, while 40% of the food produced in the United States is wasted.
    WFU commissioned a study by two farm economists that determined that if dairy industry supply management would have been implemented in the 2014 farm bill, milk prices over the past six years would have been increased, doubling net farm income while significantly lowering government expenditures and would have kept many dairy farms in business; all while having little effect on the price consumers pay in the stores.
    According to WFU President Darin Von Ruden, a Westby dairy farmer, the idea is to develop equality in the agricultural market among a wide variety of farm sizes.
    “We want to look at future growth,” Von Ruden said. “A lot of the farmers we are talking to want to see that growth go to new farmers, not to existing farmers. We have been experiencing 2% to 3% growth in the country for decades now.”
    Von Ruden said the WFU plan proposes to set a base for farm production using their current production level, with the expectation that if farmers stay within their numbers, eventually we could see an increase in smaller dairy farms milking 160 cows or less.
    “We are not looking to take anything away from what we are doing today, but to keep it so that we can have some diversity,” Von Ruden said. “That is really in the interest of most farmers. They want to be able to have a livelihood and hopefully bring the next generation in, or to bring another new farmer into their operation.”
    The WFU’s quest to bring back some form of dairy farm management dates back to a survey sent to producers in 2016, where 78% of respondents favored some form of supply management to help stabilize prices.
    Von Ruden said the Dairy Farmers of Ontario reached out to the WFU in 2017 and invited him to their annual convention to speak about the trials and tribulations American dairy farmers were facing and the issues created by the Canadian implementation of Class 7 milk.
    The birth of that relationship eventually led to several Canadian dairy producers speaking at a series of meetings hosted in the spring of 2018 by the WFU, explaining the Canadian quota system for milk production to producers from around the upper Midwest.
    “Those meetings went really well,” Von Ruden said. “The Canadian dairy farmers told it the way it is, that they like the fact that the farmers have more control over the pricing and the volume of their product.”  
    Von Ruden said the Canadian philosophy is to limit their production to meeting the needs of their country, or keeping within a 2% to 3% range of overproduction.
    “That really caught the eyes of a lot of the U.S. farmers,” Von Ruden said. “Why are we trying to produce 15% to 20% more than what we actually need in this country, just to drive our prices down? Shouldn’t we be looking at a mechanism that might get us to the 2% to 3% range, making sure we are taking care of our own country’s needs first, and not using a whole of natural resources and other things we need to keep dairy alive, just to ship it across the ocean?”
     Von Ruden said over the past two years, the WFU and the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation have been working together to develop supply management language that is palatable to the widest possible range of dairy farmers. He feels enough support has been amassed to begin moving forward to find the solution to those problems facing the dairy industry.
    “Certainly having Congressmen Gallagher and Kind introducing the Dairy Pricing and Policy Commission Act of 2020 is really the first step in getting that process done,” Von Ruden said. “Within the industry, we have done some things on our own and within our cooperatives and processors, but to really make it work efficiently, it has to be a national effort, so that language is a stepping stone to move toward that.”
    Von Ruden is hopeful that language can be in place to be included in the 2023 farm bill but realizes that even if that happens, full implementation of a supply management system could easily be four to five years into the future.
    “We just need to create some equality among dairy producers, regardless of size,” Von Ruden said. “We just need to figure out how to make sure the majority of dairy farmers can earn enough to have a decent standard of living.”