An Ohio dairy farmer’s ongoing struggles with falling milk, milk prices

Like farm country across the U.S., Kreiger Farm is facing challenges. “For the first time ever, [stock of hay and feed for the beef cattle] sold out. We were behind,” Thomas Kreiger recalled, describing how milk and butter production is made. “Farming is something we enjoy. I never liked it.”

In the popular image of dairy farmers in the Midwest, Kreiger, 58, has a different perspective, one rooted in his fourth-generation family farm in Millersburg, Ohio. He’s been growing milkshakes, topping them with icing, and serving them to young children at his sons’ camps for four decades. Kreiger, who was born and raised in Millersburg, fell in love with the agricultural lifestyle, which lasted until moving to Iowa in 1983 for his wife’s job. They then planned to open a farm store in Urbandale, Iowa, but it didn’t work out, and after looking for another year, they closed it.

Farming wasn’t on their radar anymore; it’s the reality in their hometown and nearby areas. But as dawning uncertainty and rising agricultural costs’ impact on farms continue to have a ripple effect throughout the industry, they are seeing how their farming career could be upended by increasing regulations. Kreiger farms 45 acres of corn, peanuts, soybeans, grass hay, corn for silage, soybeans, alfalfa, sheep, chickens, turkeys, and mackerel in addition to the cows. His parents were farmers in northwest Ohio as well.

“It’s a beautiful place here,” Kreiger said of the farm that dates back to 1891. “We have a good lifestyle, but we’re getting worn out because of the drought. I’ve seen people who only have a few years left, before they retire. They just decided to walk away from it. They’re not seeing a future in it.”

In his experience, the dairy industry is struggling to stay competitive, Kreiger said. Regulatory changes, in his opinion, exacerbate economic and environmental issues facing family farms.

“The fact that the individual is not enough in this industry has allowed the conglomerates to control everything. It’s the way they’ve always operated,” Kreiger said. “They know everything. They know how the herd runs. They know which milk is most profitable to purchase. We didn’t have the extra manpower to handle it, and it makes it more complicated. It comes at the expense of the consumer.”

First Published: Feb 12, 2020 11:03 IST

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