News and views

John Oncken
Now Media Group

It's spring — the planting season.

Farm meetings are few and far between; tractors are in the fields; and farmers are too busy to spend time with visiting journalists. So, it's a good time to answer some questions that wandered my way and ponder the current state ag climate.

Dairying: the dilemma

The biggest news in Wisconsin agriculture is, of course, the milk price farmers are receiving: low and falling. The basic payment price (to farmers) for milk is called the Class III or cheesemilk price that is arrived at by the USDA using a rather involved and complicated formula.

The cheesemilk price for April milk hit $13.63 per hundred weight, the lowest price since the $13.62 of June 2011. This is $2.18 (14 percent) below the $15.81 of May a year ago and $10.68 (44 percent) less than the $24.31 of May 2014.

The average U.S. cow produced 1993 pounds of milk in March — that's just under 20 hundreds. Multiply by $2.18, and you get the amount of income per cow the producer didn't get as compared to a year ago.

Note: Most Wisconsin dairy producers do receive premiums that should bring their all-milk price to about $15.30 per hundredweight in April, but the income decrease remains about the same. What other wage earner takes that kind of an income drop?

Such low milk prices are not unknown to dairy farmers. Years 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2009 saw extended periods of low milk prices that led to many dairy farmers leaving dairying.

What happens?

If history repeats, the strong, well-managed farms will survive, perhaps even expand, during the 'down' times. Smaller farmers nearing retirement or who were planning major remodeling or other investments may retire early and leave dairying.

Most dairy producers will find a way to survive: cheaper feed (corn and soybeans are much less expensive now than they were in the 2009 era) will help; every expense will be scrutinized closely; equipment purchases will be put off or perhaps cut out; and labor expenses will be reviewed.

Bottom line: increased borrowing and loss of equity and more milk produced. The old saying, 'High prices make more milk, low prices make more milk' will continue in full force even though the surplus of milk is blamed for the current low milk price. A conundrum!

Visit a farm

We'd like my children to visit a farm, but we don't know any farmers. Any suggestions?

This common query has a simple answer: Attend one of the 55 (or so) 'Dairy Breakfasts on the Farm' held in June. The entire list, by location and date, is on the website 'Dairy Days of Summer' with the Jefferson County breakfast May 21, the first one listed. However, this is held at the fairgrounds rather than on a farm.

One of my favorites is the Green County Breakfast On The Farm. It's always the last Saturday in May (May 28 this year); is well organized in regard to parking and feeding the big crowd of about 5,000; and offers a large number of farm displays.

And, yes, it is held on a family dairy farm.

The Wayne and Tammy Jeglum family, N8879 Sunnyside Road, Blanchardville, is this year's host. Regular readers of this column may remember my story in April 2013 when the Jeglums, after a lot of thought and discussion and their conclusion that 'it was time for a change,' sold their dairy herd at auction.

The rest of 2013 continued to be a good year for the Jeglums. The drought of 2012 was pretty much forgotten, and Wayne enjoyed watching the crops grow, mature and produce. Tammy found a job she enjoyed in the Mt. Horeb school district. Life was good, or was it?

It was that dairy barn sitting empty and oh so lonesome. After considerable family discussion, Wayne remembered a young man he had met two years prior, who then was planning to own a dairy herd someday. Wayne went to see him 'to see if he wanted to farm with us.'

A mutual agreement was worked out. 'Why not help a youngster get started,' Wayne said he and Tammy concluded. 'We made a good living dairying; now let him have an opportunity.'

Unfortunately, things didn't work out, and Tammy and Wayne Jeglum were again milking cows at their beautiful Twayne Valley Farm. Yes, they were disappointed but not discouraged and proceeded ahead with enthusiasm as dairy farmers on the land they love.

Twayne Valley Farm — red barn, white house, ducks in the driveway, cows and calves eager to meet visitors — is nestled between two low hills, an ideal setting for visitors and photos.

Eating and looking hours are 6 a.m to 10 a.m., and cost is but $6 and includes a full breakfast, an ice cream sundae, a farm tour, talking to cows and calves and meeting the Jeglum family.

Back to the farm

Each of the month-long series of June Breakfasts On The Farm is a bit different different. Most have scrambled eggs; some have pancakes. All have animals and farm equipment to see up-close, and every one has people who will explain farming from A to Z. You won't become an expert, but you'll know where food comes from and who raises it.

And plan a long visit; don't be in a hurry. This is not an 'in and out' event. Above all, don't be shy, ask questions, take pictures, meet people, have fun. See you there.

74,650 pounds of milk: how?

Last week's column centered on 'Gigi,' the 9-year-old Holstein that produced 74,650 pounds of milk last year to set an new U.S. milk record. Several readers asked, 'how did she do that?'

I'd guess no one has the answer, and you can't plan such things. It's her genetics and the management provided by the Behnke family of Bur-Wall Holsteins in Brooklyn.

Over the years, I've seen four of the milk record holders, and it's amazing how the milk records increased over the years. Take a look.

·1971, 44,019 pounds of milk by Graceful Hattie, Tenison Bros. Sedro Wooley, WA

·1975, 55.661 pounds milk by Arlinda Ellen, Beecher Holsteins, Rochester, IN

·1996, 63,444 pounds of milk by Aerosta Lynnn, Floyd and Lloyd Baumann, Marathon, WI

·2015, 74.650 pounds of milk by Gigi, Bur-Wall Holsteins, Brooklyn, WI

Indeed, time and change march on.

As John John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or email him at