Finding help in an unexpected place

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I am new to the position on the board of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. 

Prior to the first meeting, I was sent an agenda of what would be discussed. I opened up the documents and tried to read through to be prepared for the presentations. I noticed when the meeting was scheduled to begin and how long the meeting would last so I could calculate when I needed to leave to get through traffic in Madison. 

This meeting was July 13 and was to start at 9 a.m. Even though it is usually only a 20-minute drive, I left an hour early because there was road construction. I walked in just as the meeting was being called to order, and I felt good that my timing was right on.

After the approval of the May minutes, we listened to Adam Payne, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and witnessed the presentations of DATCP employees of the year. 

I was moved by the supervisors who described these employees, using words such as motivated, caring, leaders, problem solvers and liked by their co-workers. Positive attitude was consistently mentioned as they were being complimented on their values and dedication to their positions. These employees of the year will have their names on a plaque in the entry hallway. 

I could see the pride and self-satisfaction that radiated from these people as they received their recognition. These people really like their jobs, and it shows with their smiling faces and their posture. Good people, working hard, loving their lives.

As the agenda continued, we listened to the results of Wisconsin’s agriculture statistics survey. It started with the 2023 crop planting and June acreage. This part of the survey revealed that corn acres are up, soybean acres are down, dry hay acres are up, potatoes are up and winter wheat also. 

I am interested in hearing about all of these crops because, as a farmer, this will have an effect on our family’s income. Milk production will also have a big impact on our farm and many others throughout the state. 

May milk production totaled 2.79 billion pounds. This is up 1% from the previous May. Average monthly production per cow is 2,195 pounds in May. This volume of milk, which goes to make so many of the delicious and nutritious dairy products Wisconsin is famous for, is almost unimaginable. I am very thankful I live where I do in the United States. 

The next item on the survey was the number of cow herds as of July 1. We are down to 5,905 family dairy farms. This is down 430 since the previous year. The milk price for May was $17.90 per hundredweight, down $9.50 from May 2022. 

Hearing this, my heart sank, and my mind wandered off. I know many families that have had to sell their cows this past year, and I know many of them are struggling with the choice they had to make. Families are facing extremely low milk prices, high input costs and high labor costs with the cost of living per household going up, but farm families’ money available to pay bills is going down. Families are enduring emotional stress, depression, and feelings of frustration and anger about working so hard. Bills are piling up, but there is no end in sight for a solution to fix the problems other than to sell the cows.

As the survey presentation was finishing, I was able to come back into focus. Another presentation started about the Wisconsin Farm Center, which provides free services to farmers. I mistakenly thought these services were only for beginning farmers, but I was wrong. This is for all farmers and includes financial and business consultation; succession and transition planning; conflict, legal and financial mediation; herd-based diagnostics; veteran farmer assistance; and a farmer wellness program.

This presentation is exactly what I needed to hear: There is support and help for farmers. I left the meeting feeling informed and also capable of referring other farmers to these services. As farmers, we are independent, and often, this leads to isolation. We don’t have anyone cheering us on, using words to describe us as motivated, caring, leaders, problem solvers and liked by their co-workers. 

Life as a dairy farmer is hard, and having a positive attitude can be challenging. We could all use some praise to keep going and a big hug when we feel down. We are all good people, working hard but not always loving our lives. Sometimes we could use a little help, and the Wisconsin Farm Center is there for us.

    Tina Hinchley, her husband Duane and daughter Anna milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots.  They also farm 2,300 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wisconsin. The Hinchleys have been hosting farm tours for over 25 years.


Access the Wisconsin Farmer Wellness Helpline at 1-888-901-2558 for around-the-clock support for farmers struggling with suicidal thoughts, depression or anxiety.  

    


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