As we read your story about the dairy census numbers and animal unit caps, we wondered what your objective might be. The data you cited as fact simply don’t suggest that an animal unit cap serves no useful purpose.
We’ve researched and we’re not seeing any data backing up Winona County Commissioner Steve Jacob’s claim that “cows are leaving Winona County as dairy farmers move to neighboring counties that don’t impede growth.” Also, the suggestion that smaller dairies are “less likely to use cover crops” is not supported by data.
The fact is, federal and state farming policies have driven and continue to drive smaller and mid-sized dairies out of business throughout the nation. In 1992, Minnesota had about 14,000 dairy farms. Now there are slightly less than 4,000.
When we have fair and competitive markets in place, dairies of any size which are managed well and keep total debt low, are able to run profitably. There is no correlation between size and profitability. Larger animal numbers simply mean greater gross dollars, not automatic profits. “Economies of scale” can act as a myth that hides how dairy processors bias benefits for the biggest players through farm policies that are in drastic need of overhaul.
For over 25 years, our family has made our living operating our 175-cow grazing dairy farm in Fillmore County. It’s situated over the same sensitive karst geology that is present throughout Winona County. All along, we have worked with our farming community to run a profitable dairy enterprise while protecting the land, our water, environment and community. We have a deep understanding of the challenges, realities and fundamental limits involved when you’re working to maintain water quality and healthy soil while farming in this region and keeping your farm business up and running.
An animal unit cap is a reasonable and vital limit for balance at all levels within any region, and especially in a region with surface and ground water as sensitive as ours.
Vance and Bonnie Haugen, Canton, Minn.