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Sheboygan Dairy Farmer
Thursday, October 29, 2009
 
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SHEBOYGAN DAIRY FARMER
IN WISCONSIN REPORTS
In our on-going "Money Matters" series, In Wisconsin's Frederica Freyberg found out farmers are still waiting for economic recovery down on the farm. This story is part of a much larger reporting project called Patchwork Nation. In collaboration with PBS's NewsHour and the Christian Science Monitor we are examining how economic issues are playing differently across the country. To learn more go to our website at wpt.org and click on In Wisconsin.
Sheboygan Dairy Farmer
TRANSCRIPT
Patty Loew:
Wisconsin dairy farmers keep hearing about an economic recovery and yet their cost for doing business way out paces the prices they get for milk. In our ongoing “Money Matters” series, "In Wisconsin’s” Frederica Freyberg shows you how farmers are still waiting for recovery down on the farm in Plymouth.

Frederica Freyberg:
The acreage out back of Gene Bohnhoff’s dairy farm will soon be grazing land for his 200 cows. They'll be eating grass to save on the back breaking cost of feed.

Gene Bohnhoff:
It's pretty tough.

Kathy Bohnhoff:
I am a little probably afraid of what's coming if milk prices don't improve.

Frederica Freyberg:
The price farmers have been getting for their milk for the last several months is the lowest in 25 years.

Kathy Bohnhoff:
It's probably almost half of what we were making last year.

Frederica Freyberg:
And their costs for things like feed and seed and fertilizer have only gone up, and then there's health care.

Kathy Bohnhoff:
Gene just had surgery on his shoulder this last February. We had to pay thousands. I'm still paying on his hospital bills.

Frederica Freyberg:
Sheboygan County dairy agent Tina Kohlman hears it every day.

Tina Kohlman:
They say to me that they don't know how they're going to make the next milk check last. A lot of times the milk checks are spent before they receive it in their bank account.

Frederica Freyberg:
Low milk prices for farmers are the result of supply and demand. A cool summer meant cows produced more so supply is high even as some farmers went out of business and demand on the export markets of cheese and nonfat dry milk fell into the basement this year. Government programs like price supports do offer Wisconsin farmers some needed relief.

Kathy Bohnhoff:
The extra money that we just get monthly from the milk program helps to just kind of take the edge off of some of those bills that we can't pay.

Frederica Freyberg:
Ag experts say increasingly in this market and in this economy, dairy farmers are turning to another kind of government help many never considered before. Things like food stamps, fuel assistance, health insurance for the poor.

Tina Kohlman:
These producers take pride in a product they produce and they take pride they are self sufficient and it is breaking their hearts to even have to call and ask, are there programs or opportunities for me that I can tap into just to get me through the next month?

Frederica Freyberg:
The Bohnhoff’s youngest son Tim works on the farm. His three older siblings have left for college and other professions.

Tim Bohnhoff:
I'm not really sure about wanting to continue to dairy farm here.

Frederica Freyberg:
Tim says he's watched how hard his parents have worked and despite their wishes, he may not become the fourth generation to run the farm.

Tim Bohnhoff:
This isn't really a job. It's a life.

Frederica Freyberg:
The Wisconsin department of agriculture reports that since about 1950, 100,000 family farms have gone out of business. Many times a retiring farmer becomes the last in a line.

Tina Kohlman:
Their knees are going out, their backs are going out. They can't do that much longer as they age but they don't have another generation, the sons or daughters coming in.

Frederica Freyberg:
But there are glimmers of hope among young people interested in farming like in the faces of kids tending to their show animals at the Sheboygan County fair.

Tina Kohlman:
You guys are ready?

Frederica Freyberg:
Tina Kohlman calls this a happy time in the midst of all of the toil and trouble.

Tina Kohlman:
This is the highlight of Sheboygan County. This is the climax of the summer. To see these young kids who have passion and heart, it is a bright spot and it's an opportunity for the farmers to spend time with their families. This brings our families together, gives them a break from the every day things that are going on in the farm.

Frederica Freyberg:
Things like sending milk off to market for prices that don't allow most farmers to break even, much less profit. Experts say prices that would allow that are not expected for at least a year.

Patty Loew:
Wisconsin Ag experts say prices are starting to edge higher but have a long way to go to reverse the red ink facing farmers. The president this month signed legislation that gives 350 million dollars in emergency financial relief to dairy farmers. The report you just saw is part of a much larger project involving journalists from around the country called “Patchwork Nation.” In collaboration with PBS's Newshour and the Christian Science Monitor, we are examining how economic issues are playing differently across the country. To learn more just go to our website at wpt.org/inwisconsin. You'll find information about Patchwork Nation.
 
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