The March 17 headline, “Is Winona County's animal unit cap killing business?” asks a question, but the article itself contains few answers to what we should really be asking: are mega-dairies good for rural economies? Some digging shows the answer is no.

Dairy farming represents a significant boost to a community, a boost that row-cropping, for example, just can’t match. The University of Wisconsin estimates a dairy cow in that state can generate $34,000 a year in local economic activity. But by automatically equating more cows with more economic activity, promoters of mega-dairies miss a key point: the local economic value of milk production on one factory farm is not the same as if it was produced on several small and medium-sized operations. The Journal of Dairy Science found that having more dairy farms in a community is associated with a more positive economic and socioeconomic environment than just pure gross sales of milk. U of M economist Richard Levins points out that as dairies add thousands, and even tens of thousands, of cows, the number of communities with NO dairies of ANY size is increasing at a phenomenal rate. That is a direct result of mega-operations, with the help of government policy, pushing out their smaller counterparts through massive over-production.

What makes for a thriving Main Street – more cows or more farmers? As a Sibley County hardware store owner once told a researcher: “You know, I haven’t had many cows come in here lately.”

Brian DeVore, Land Stewardship Project, Lewiston

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