Dairy Good Life

Real, not perfect

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If you drive into our yard right now, it looks like a hay auction and an equipment dealership got together and had a baby.

We always buy several loads of hay during the winter, but because the drought this summer severely curtailed the growth of our crops and our pasture, we’ve been buying extra. We couldn’t unload the last couple loads out by our feed storage area because of the mud caused by the Christmas rain, so there’s a load or two worth of hay bales sitting in our yard.

Equipment is scattered throughout the yard because everything with an engine needs to be parked close to an outlet — extension cords only reach so far. But plugging them in wasn’t even enough last week; because it’s the warmest room on the farm, the milkhouse became a battery warmer.

We have three groups of heifers crowded into two bays of the heifer shed because the water line supplying one of the waterers is frozen.

Our yard is far from the pristine white that makes winter so beautiful. It looks more like an almost-burnt marshmallow. This week’s south wind dusted our yard with the neighbors’ topsoil.

In the past, for all of these reasons, I would have insisted that our farm look perfect. But, I have been embracing the mantra, “Real, not perfect.”

My house will never look like something out of a magazine because we work hard and play hard, and that’s hard on a house. Our farm is not always picturesque, either, because it’s a real, working farm.

So, when our co-op’s government relations team asked if we would host a visit for the Minnesota Senate Agriculture Committee, I embraced all of our real-ness and said yes.

With the next session of the Minnesota Legislature starting Feb. 12, I figured it could be good for lawmakers to see “real, not perfect.”

I’m so glad I did. We had a great visit. The entire committee wasn’t able to attend, which was probably good, as there’s not a lot of room in the front of our barn. We did have Sens. Aric Putnam (the committee’s chair), Torrey Westrom, Robert Kupec, and Gene Dornink. 

They were joined by several ag committee staff and a couple folks from our co-op’s government relations team. Plus, Dan, Monika, and Daphne opted out of their first couple hours of school so they could meet the senators.

We all had great conversations. The senators and staff asked excellent questions about our farm. But, to me, the most important question they asked was: What can the state of Minnesota do to help small and mid-size dairy farms be successful?

I didn’t have specific ideas to share, but I did say that anything that makes our jobs easier would be welcome. In the past 18 years, we have increased the number of cows we milk from 40 to 100. The hours we can work in a day are maxed out. We don’t have a separate human relations department or accounting department. The more time we can spend working with our cows and not doing paperwork, the better.

Likewise, our land base and our facilities are maxed out. Increasing our output hasn’t been enough to offset rising prices. Our annual farm business analysis shows that our profit per cow continues to decline. If Minnesota truly wants to keep smaller dairy farms in business, we’ll have to think outside the box to come up with solutions.

Why should we? Because small and mid-size dairy farms are part of the backbone of Minnesota’s rural economies. We generate millions of dollars of economic activity in our communities.

We also play an important role in workforce development. We provide work experiences for our children and part-time jobs for high school and college students. Young people who don’t live on farms but work on farms during their youth are more likely to pursue agriculture-related careers.

How would you answer the senators’ question? No policy solution will likely be perfect, but perhaps the state can find real, meaningful ways to support dairy farms.

If you have ideas on how the state can preserve dairy farms in Minnesota, the committee genuinely wants to hear them. I encourage you to contact a member of the committee or the committee’s staff. Even better, make plans to attend a lobby day at the Capitol. Minnesota Milk’s Dairy Day at the Capitol is March 7. Other organizations, including Minnesota Farm Bureau and Minnesota Farmers Union, will hold lobby days as well.

Sadie Frericks and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minnesota. They have three children: Dan, Monika, and Daphne. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at [email protected].

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