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Dear Editor:

We speak for family dairy farmers in Wisconsin who have had a very rough four years – low prices for milk and other commodities, high supply prices, and, on top of all of this, dairy overproduction.

Of course, these problems cause a ripple effect. Local businesses fail, rural schools and hospitals close, and local communities are hollowed out. Year after year we have coped with weather problems, but it is the economics of agriculture that have been the most distressing, beginning with our own dairy cooperative.

This saddens us since our co-ops have, through the years, been the life-blood of our rural communities. Let us tell you about some of the unfair, unwarranted milk “checkoffs” which our milk plants are taking from their patrons’ milk checks – at a time when they can least afford it. (Even the name is inaccurate, since a “checkoff” in any other situation is optional.)

In 2019, our family dairy farm had over $23,000 siphoned from our income for state and national promotions and CWT. How did those thousands of dollars improve our situation and create a sustainable dairy system with fair returns to producers? Not much, if at all.

Consider that in this past year alone Wisconsin lost some 800 dairies. However, if our family farm had retained that checkoff money over the past 30+ years, we would have saved nearly a half million dollars. Put that half million in the stock market and we could have netted over a million dollars! Pretty good sum, don’t you think?

On top of all of this, our dairy cooperative took $74,528.51 from our milk checks – no explanation. This same co-op then took $25,000 of our patronage refund going back 3-4 years. Again, no explanation!

Listen, we are obviously angry about this, but even more, we are disappointed. This sure isn’t the transparent, farmer-owned cooperative that we remember from years’ past.

A recent court decision claims that union members in the minority should not have to pay dues. Should this apply to us too? Are cooperative members allowed to opt out of this outrageous “skimming” of the cream from their members’ milk checks? It is our hope that our future co-op leadership will do the fair and honest thing and put their members’ needs at the front of all of their decision-making.

Instead of talking incessantly about “exports” and “pounds of milk,” these men and women should be talking about how to give their family farmers a fair return. Bloated paychecks and lavish hotels and retreats are an embarrassment to our once honorable cooperatives.

You know what our current president and Republican leadership is always spouting: “Don’t take taxes from the people because the people know best how to spend their money.” Okay, how about it? Let our desperate family dairy farmers decide how they will spend that yearly checkoff money to keep their farms afloat.

Dairy neighbors and their supporters, use your voice. Read all you can about this issue, call or write your members of Congress, and raise a little hell at your dairy meetings. (Some of these folks are way too comfortable with the status quo. After all, their paychecks never seem to go down, right?)

And finally, join a farm organization that truly supports family agriculture, like the Farmers Union (wisconsinfarmersunion.com), Family Farm Defenders (familyfarmers.org) and the NFO (nationalfarmers.com). If you sit on your hands and do nothing, we’ll all keep losing out.

Donald and Anita Nelson

Wisconsin Dells, WI 

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