Hog farmers Paul and Candy Sobocinski
For the first quarter of 2011, Minnesota dairy farmers face a new low in dairy future prices, according to an article in Agrinews. Eunice Biel, the Harmony activist and family farmer interviewed for the piece, had something to say about it recently while participating in a USDA workshop about competition:
. . .Biel heard the milk futures for the first quarter of 2011 went down to a new low of $13.41.
It hit her hard. Her discouragement guided her as she spoke. She was blunt because she is concerned about the future of her family’s and her neighbors’ dairy farms.
It’s tough as a dairy farmer to pay expenses, Biel said as she sat on the five-member panel that was onstage for an hour. Dairy farmers must take care of their animals. They can’t skimp on feed or animal care. They have to haul manure and maintain their barns. They have to care for the calves.
There were a few times in 2009 when the feed bill was higher than the milk check, Biel said.
Dairy farmers are still struggling to recover from the devastating low prices of 2009, she said, and another train wreck is coming. . . .
As readers know, I’m fairly active in the Minnesota Farmers Union, a grassroots rural advocacy group of and for family farmers. Eunice is a friend from the organization, and it’s good to see her speaking up in Washington at the “Agriculture and Antitrust Enforcement Issues in Our 21st Century Economy: Margins” workshop session.
With her husband, son and daughter-inlaw, Eunice milks around 150 cows. She asks a central question about the dairy industry:
. . . In 2009, the farmers share of what consumers spent dropped to 26 percent, she said. Now, the percentage is around 30 percent.
Biel wants to know who’s making the profits in the fluid milk supply chain. Why the disconnect between retail prices and farm gate prices?
Go read the article Harmony, Minn., farmer testifies at competition workshop. It’s paired with Paul Sobocinski attends competition hearing in Washington an article about another MFU activist and friend’s testimony at a related hearing:
Wabasso farmer Paul Sobocinski spoke in favor of open and competitive markets . . .
. . .Sobocinski was not on a panel, but provided testimony and gave public comments at the Dec. 8 meeting, the fifth of five joint workshops on competition issues. About 400 people registered to attend, Sobocinski said. . .
. . .In addition to open and competitive markets, Sobocinski spoke in favor of fair market access for all players and better transparency so farmers can discover the best available price. . . .
Sobocinski said he is the only hog farmer left among of his nine closest neighbors. Some have sold their livestock and focused on crop production. Others have found jobs in town.
He said livestock farmers are not getting their fair share, comparing it to the pieces of a pie. At home, everyone got an equal slice, he said. That’s how it should be with livestock producers and everyone in the supply chain. He also asked for timely action.
Sobocinski, who produces pork for Niman Ranch, said he’s concerned that hog and beef production will move into the tightly vertically integrated system of poultry growers, who have been contract growers for some time and feel they are losing personal freedoms.
He was referencing a poultry grower who testified at one workshop and expressed fear of losing his contract because he spoke at the hearing. . . .
The situation facing Minnesota’s dairy and hog farmers like Biel and Sobocinski underscore the need for Governor-elect Dayton to appoint a skilled Commissioner of Agriculture to replace Gene Hugoson, who has been in the position since Trix was a pup. First appointed in 1995, Hugoson — seen by many family farmers of my acquaintance as a shill for Big Ag — has served as Ag Commissioner during the Carlson, Ventura and Pawlenty.