Dairy farmers in U.S. and Britain in despair over economic pressures

First, here’s a story from the UK Telegraph, about a “Dairy Farmer Reduced to Tears“:

Michael Rickatson at his farm his farm in North Yorkshire Photo: KIPPA MATTHEWS

“Like many other milk producers, Michael Rickatson had to do the unthinkable and sell his herd. Olga Craig asks him what the future now holds.

In his mid-forties now, Michael Rickatson is the sturdy, outdoors type. Not one to shy away from hard work, he is what’s known in his native North Yorkshire as a grafter. In fact, since he left school at 16, he has worked a seven-day week. He’s never taken a day off.

But he doesn’t mind admitting that two months ago, on November 6, he stood by the empty byre on the farm near Sheriff Hutton that his family has farmed for 51 years and wept like a baby.

It takes a lot to make a straight-talking farmer such as Mr Rickatson cry. He has, however, more than ample reason. That Friday he had stood in a makeshift sales ring on his 250-acre farm and sold off his entire 192-strong Holstein dairy herd.

“Emotional? I’ll say,’’ he says. ”These are working animals, don’t get me wrong. But every farmer builds up an affection for his cows. How can you not? You are there to calf them, rear them, milk them. Some for 14 years. It’s hard not to be emotional when you’re forced to sell. Couple that with your fears for your financial future and apprehension over losing your whole way of life. Who wouldn’t cry?’’

Mr Rickatson is far from alone, as was clear from last week’s Oxford Farming Conference on food at which Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for the Environment, launched a government campaign to boost Britain’s self-sufficiency.

All across the country, diary farmers are facing the loss of their livelihood. In 1985, there were 28,000 diary farmers in England and Wales. By last November, when Mr Rickatson became one of the nine dairy farmers that throw in the towel each week, there were 11,551 left. As recently as two years ago Britain was self-sufficient in milk. Now we import 1.5 million litres a day. For the farmers who struggle on, their working lives – and that of their herds – have become a grind: such is their despair that one a week commits suicide.

Forget the idyll of the straw-hatted farmer watching his contented cows chewing the cud in open pasture. Many herds have never seen fields. They are indoors day and night and are milk-producing machines, fed on grass brought to them and mixed with concentrates to boost their yields.

The chief villains are the supermarkets which, by driving down milk prices, are forcing farmers to intensify production or go out of business and leave the way clear for foreign imports. Currently one litre of full fat milk costs around 75p – of which farmers get around 26p, the exact cost of producing it.

That statistic is one of the reasons why men such as Mr Rickatson have finally called it a day. ”It was a wrench to let the herd go,’’ he says, seated now in his comfortable farm kitchen. Behind him the Aga is roaring and his chocolate-brown labrador is sprawled at his feet. This has long been a family farm. Mr Rickatson’s father Tom died from cancer in 1992 and his widow Dorothy and their son took over. Now they face an unpredictable future as arable farmers.

The story of how Mr Rickatson’s once-thriving livelihood became a millstone around his neck is a familiar one in farming circles.

The Rickatsons were members of the Dairy Farmers of Britain Co-operative, which went bankrupt last September. Since then they have struggled to find other buyers. As members of the co-operative, their milk (some 6,000 litres per cow each year) was collected daily. But since its collapse they are deemed too small an operation….”

Get the full story from the Telegraph.

And in the United States a farmer recently killed his cows and himself. Here’s an excerpt from that story, from The Daily Mail:

COPAKE — Thursday morning, Copake dairy farmer Dean Pierson went into his barn with a rifle and killed all 51 of his milk cows before turning the gun on himself, ending his own life.

According to the New York State Police out of Livingston, around 1 p.m. a milk man came to the barn to make his pick-up and found a note on the door that said not to come in and to call the police. “He was basically trying to save any family or friends from having to discover him,” said Capt. Scott Brown.

Brown said at that time a neighboring farmer did go in to see what had happened. He discovered Pierson and called 911.

Trooper Charles Butenhoff arrived at the scene shortly thereafter and upon entering the barn found Pierson on the ground, already deceased. Trooper Butenhoff then saw the 51 cows lying dead in their rows of milking stalls. Brown said Pierson was efficient and selective, only killing the milk cows, leaving his heifers and calves to survive…”

Read the whole story and see pictures on The Daily Mail.

1 Comment

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One response to “Dairy farmers in U.S. and Britain in despair over economic pressures

  1. nedlud

    I’ll never forget my first ‘troubling’ experience with Organic Valley (and yet it was, to be, just the tip of the iceberg): We were approved ‘organic’ and started shipping milk. The truck they sent in was large and ill-fitted, its tires were bald, virtually treadless. I overlooked this, because we were all just getting to know each other, so to speak. Then we experienced an ice storm, making everything a skating rink. They had a provided a ‘driver’ who was of an extremely nervous disposition. Now, our yard is compact and things are tight, it is sloping. I have no control over that, it never was much of a problem before, when we dealt with our local creamery, decent drivers and smaller and better equipped trucks. But these large trucks, worn tires and that poor driver changed the equation. I learned there were only a certain way this overly large truck could get in and get out, even in relatively good winter weather, and I tried to instruct the driver. The driver was under pressure to make schedule. Everybody was under pressure. I remember this ‘nut’ nearly taking out my milk house by spinning his tires and sliding frantically on the ice even after I told him what must be done. I barely rushed out of the house in time to stop him. As it was, he was up against it and had crumpled the steel siding. I did what I told him to do, which was to sprinkle wood ashes under the wheels, which I had provided, but he never apparently listened to. I got him out with relative ease but it was close. Again, I remind anyone reading this, the truck was using bald tires! And the driver was semi-insane, insane from pressure and just plain insane. This didn’t prevent Organic Valley from calling me, blaming me, and threatening me with suspending my milk pick-up and check. I will never forget that, I will never forget the voice on the telephone and the bureaucratic and heavy-handed abuse and intimidation that started right there, that day and continued for as long as we tried to deal with them. I didn’t fight back to start with because I thought they ‘cared’ and further, I had no other place to go with my milk–not if I was going to be ‘organic’. Later, when I did start to fight back, I learned quickly, how little they cared, which in fact, was not at all….

    ….now I no longer milk cows and each day I express in my heart, hatred for those ‘powers that be’ and the cowards that implement those powers, such as those at Organic Valley, Family of Farms.

    I don’t expect anyone reading this really cares either. And that is why I know exactly how that dairy farmer that killed himself feels.

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