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Dairy farm damage gets high-level attention

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Gov. Tim Walz, middle right, and Sen. Tina Smith, right, talk with Katie and Rob Kreidermacher while looking at a damaged barn during a visit to their farm near Altura on Saturday. The Kreidermachers lost 10 cows when the barn roof collapsed because of heavy snow.
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ALTURA

On March 6, for the first time in 114 years, not a single dairy cow was milked on the Hoffman family farm west of Chatfield.

"Our cows are all gone," said Corey Hoffman, who farms with his brother, John, and father, Gary. "We had no choice."

That’s because this winter’s heavy snowfall and strong winds took down the Hoffmans’ dairy barn, forcing them to sell their cows and take a hard look at the future.

The Hoffmans were one of several dairy farm families who met with Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, and area legislators and ag officials on Saturday at the Rob and Katie Kreidermacher farm near Altura. Dozens of barn roofs have collapsed in the state due to heavy snow, and southeastern Minnesota dairy farms have been particularly hard hit.

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"I’ve never seen snow piled up in our yard like it is now," said Gary Hoffman. "You read about it in the paper, but until it happens to you …"

Hoffman said the family has made no decision at this point if they’ll get back into dairy farming. "That’s up to my boys and their wives," he said.

The possibility that other families will be forced to pull out of dairy farming threatens the state’s economy, Walz said.

"These dairy farms are the bedrock of the economy and their communities," he said. "What we need to do is keep these dairy farms up and running."

The damage to barns and herds, Smith said, is coming on the heels of low prices for dairy products.

"It’s a double whammy," she said.

State lawmakers are fast-tracking a bill through the Legislature to get help in the form of loans and insurance payments to the affected farmers as quickly as possible.

But, Rob Kreidermacher said, "I’m not sure how much money we can afford to borrow."

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One of Kreidermacher’s barns came down the Sunday morning of last month’s blizzard. Only the help of neighbors prevented an even bigger disaster, he said.

"I was here by myself, and I couldn’t have done anything," he said. "The community, they’re the only reason we saved any animals."

He said Walz’s visit sends a message that the state’s dairy farmers aren’t in this situation alone.

"It shows that people who have the power to help, care," he said.

The previous weekend, Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen got a taste of that when he visited Winona County.

With Petersen were Rep. Jeanne Poppe, Rep. Steve Drazkowski, Sen. Michael P. Goggin — the same lawmakers accompanying Walz and Smith — and representatives for the state’s congressional delegation.

They stopped at two farms in Rollingstone, but Petersen said several other farmers were there to share the details of the damage they experienced.

The damage is more than structural, Petersen said.

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"Keep in mind that it’s not just the roofs coming down," said Petersen. "But it’s also the bins, electricity and whatever else that will cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars for farmers."

On top of the structural and equipment damage, Petersen said many farmers lost livestock. One of the Rollingstone farms visited on March 2 lost eight cows, and the other lost 13.

The surviving cows were still impacted by the collapses. They were injured or spooked, said Petersen, resulting in a loss of milk production.

The number of roofs that collapsed at dairy farms in Southeast Minnesota is about 25, said Petersen; statewide, the total is closer to 50. That includes machine sheds, freestall barns and poultry barns.

"For dairy farmers, it was just another punch in the gut," said Petersen, "because they’re already having a hard time and this winter has been very difficult."

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