Leaders in the dairy industry meet to discuss challenges facing - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Leaders in the dairy industry meet to discuss challenges facing Wisconsin farmers

Posted: Updated:
The Wisconsin Idea Dairy Summit addressed issues facing the dairy industry. The Wisconsin Idea Dairy Summit addressed issues facing the dairy industry.

MADISON (WKOW) --- About 200 people attended a summit Monday to discuss challenges facing the dairy industry.

UW System created and hosted the "Wisconsin Idea Dairy Summit,” bringing together farmers, industry leaders, and researchers to help create an understanding of the different aspects of the industry. They discussed changes in the business, as well as challenges farmers may see going forward.

“The summit helps them to understand exactly where are we today, why are we where we're at today, and then give thought to what can we do differently for the future,” said Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Secretary Ben Brancel.

“It is important for small farmers to be involved along with the larger farmers so that we all have equal representation,” said Melvin Pittman, who owns a small farm in western Wisconsin.

The dairy industry and farmers are vitally important to Wisconsin’s economy with farms producing 30 billion pounds of milk each year. Brancel said Wisconsin has a more diverse dairy industry than most places in the country.

“Without talking about individual numbers, of course, it's a $43 billion industry. You can't compare a commodity in any other state and come up with those kind of numbers. That's the economic value to the state of Wisconsin,” Brancel said. “But it's even more so a value to each community. The community that has a processing plant, a community that has farms or supplies services to businesses. So it has a rural social impact in our state that's tremendous.”

Pittman has been in the dairy industry all his life. He's a second-generation farmer with about 75 cows.

Part of the challenge for farmers like Pittman is keeping his business viable in the face of growing competition from larger farms. With large dairy operations taking over many communities, he said there is still room for his and other small farms.

“I think they'll always be a place for the smaller farmers. The farms that are becoming more questionable I believe all the ones that are in between, the medium size farms,” Pittman said. “The large farms will continue to grow. And a lot of those are family farms. It's just that the impression is that because they're so large they must be corporate owned. I think a lot of them are still family farms.”

Small farms may not be a thing of the past. However, Brancel said they will face challenges in the future unless farmers find a niche market place for their product.

“We have some small farms that are very viable. They produce milk through managed grazing systems that is very different from high tech, confined systems. We have a marketplace that's looking for commodity products. And we have a marketplace looking for special products like organic belly or organic dairy products. So we have a strong economy in two areas. To farm in a commercial way in a small, with a small farm would be very challenging in the future unless they find a niche in the marketplace.”

“The small farms will survive if they have a specialty to them. Whether they produce high-quality milk or they can be grazing or they can do other things that they can get more money from the marketplace by doing those things,” Pittman said.

Brancel said another challenge facing Wisconsin farmers is milk priced below market value coming into the state from places like Michigan and the east coast.

“Where they do not have the processing capability of handling that milk. And so that milk comes into the state of Wisconsin under the market price, very cheap, in order to just find a home for that milk. And that is a real challenge.”

He said processors must recognize that they have to support local dairy producers.

Powered by Frankly