Thursday, June 25, 2009

$5 milk?!

Maybe you’ve heard the latest sensational news: milk could cost $5 a gallon by the end of the summer. Scary, huh? Chalk it up to the economy, the ethanol craze, or whatever reason one can fabricate to blame. Nonetheless, these even a more frightening reality at heart: the poor state of the dairy industry today. While you might pay $5 at the grocery store, only a fraction of that goes to the dairy farmer.

So, let’s figure up just how much the farmer is receiving per gallon. Before we do that, here’s a quick description of how milk is marketed. Dairy producers are paid per the “hundred-weight,” or per one hundred pounds of milk. There are 8.7 pounds of milk in one gallon. Currently, to make the math a little easier, we’ll round up and say that class three milk (fluid milk- the good stuff you buy in the plastic jugs) is going for $10 a hundredweight. Breaking that down, here’s an approximation of what the farmer is getting for a gallon of milk:

.87 __$__   =   __$10__   x   __8.7lbs__

        gal          100lbs             1gal

That’s right, for every gallon of milk you buy at the grocery store, a whopping 87 cents goes to the farmer. Where does the rest go? The supermarket’s pocket, the processor gets a cut, and you can’t forget the trucking company. Worse yet, though you may be paying $5 for a gallon of milk this summer, the futures market shows only a slight increase in the farmer’s share. Therefore, there will be larger profits for everyone except the farmer.

Now, not to continue to be a bearer of bad news, but that 87 cents isn’t even profit for the farmer. Far from it. By the time you take out labor costs, feed costs, cow healthcare, and other overhead costs, many dairy farmers are barely sliding by. They are using profits from past years to ride out the wave of losing money this year.

So, what can be done to solve this crisis in the dairy industry? We wish we knew. For now, it’s a matter of riding it on good management practices and doing more with less until the markets come around.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Farming- It's Not a 9 to 5 Job

The past couple of weeks, we have been reminded that farming is not for the faint of heart or for those that enjoy sleep, for that matter! Early mornings, late nights, and go-go-go in between are necessary to get the crops into the ground in a timely fashion. Since Mother Nature only provides limited windows with the right conditions, like any woman, the schedule is on her terms.

Memorial Day weekend, while many of you were enjoying cookouts and were lounging beside the pool, you might have noticed the number of tractors scurrying down the road. Farming, you see, isn't a nine to five job. It doesn't take holidays, and it quits when the job is done, not when the daylight runs out. The work ethic of American farmers is second to none. I was both amazed and impressed when during the peak of planting season, Greg would leave the house a little before 6am, not to return again until after 11p. Not only was he planting crops, but he was also feeding cows, fixing equipment, and dealing with other issues that arose. And, you know what? He's not the exception. Farmers everyday balance the same workload. 

Unfortunately, the weather didn't hold until planting was finished. The rain got to us right before the soybeans hit the ground. That means this week has been a little more relaxed, but rest assured, as soon as the fields dry up some, they'll be at it again. So, the next time you're driving down the road cussing at the tractor driving 10mph in front of you, have a little respect knowing that their job isn't all lollipops and sunshine. :) 

Greg checks seed levels in the boxes on the planter. It's important to make sure there is always enough in the boxes, or he could have to replant the rows where the seed ran out. 

Planting crops requires lot of concentration. The tractor and planter together weigh 10 tons, which means you really don't want to mess up! Also, there are about 5 controls to run at a time, in addition to steering. Multitasking is a must!

The sun is going down, but Greg is still planting. If the weather is right, farmers don't want to miss their windows of opportunity to get the crops in the ground!