Guest Editorial  


Boots On The Ground

Part 2 of 2

See: Part 1 of 2

Jim Cisler
Dairy Consultant/Owner
Dairy Assets, LLC

August 2, 2019

As our beloved Milwaukee Brewers seem to be headed into their proverbial second half of the season slide in the standings, I am reminded of the saying by former New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, “It’s deja vu all over again.”

The Wisconsin dairy industry seems to have had similar circumstances facing it in the past. I remember when Wisconsin’s milk production was going down every year after 1988 until it bottomed out in 2004 and has been steadily growing every year since then.

I had started my stint with DATCP in 2004 and over the next several years, I remember coordinating thousands of visits to individual Wisconsin dairy farms with UW-Extension and UW Center for Dairy Profitability experts for our teams to assess each dairy farm and help dairy farm owners determine the best way to be successful on their farms in the future.

This same idea could be done again with boots on the ground assessment teams. The team’s focus would be on the long-term viability of current Wisconsin dairy farms and determining the long-term potential of each farm in terms of cow numbers as some farms will only be able to grow to a certain size based on the specifics of that particular farm site. There is no cost for these services if coordinated with these state agencies.

The one big difference between that previous scenario and the current one is that we had plenty of dairy farms back then: over 15,000. At that time, we were not so concerned with saving every dairy farm as long as some wanted to modernize, expand, add cows and grow the dwindling milk supply.

The current scenario is different in the fact that we still have an adequate milk supply at the moment but yet cannot afford to lose many more dairy farms in the future so as to ensure the number of cows will be enough for the necessary future milk supply.

The numbers from my article last week show that there is a tipping point some time in the near future where if the dairy farm number gets too low, the remaining dairy farms will not be able to support the number of dairy cows required to continue the existing milk production that is needed. We all know that once a farm shuts down, it doesn’t usually come back on line.

So, if a goal is set to not let the number of dairy farms in Wisconsin drop below 5,000, the first step to a potential plan to meet this goal would be to have assessment teams meet at every dairy farm in the state that wants to be assessed to determine what is viable for their future and set a longer-term plan for their site to ensure its future viability. Plan your work, then work your plan. Assist dairy farmers where needed to fulfill their long-term individual goals to survive and thrive. Whether it is finding better financing, planning ways to modernize or expand their operations, improving efficiencies or just being more profitable. There is always room for improvement of some fashion on every Wisconsin dairy farm.

One other point to keep in mind in this future planning: Research and analysis of dairy farms over the last 20 years is revealing that when most dairy farms reach approximately 3,000 cows, there is not much efficiency to be gained with more cows on that site as feed and manure need to be trucked longer distances then. It is more efficient and better for the environment to start another 3,000-cow dairy than to grow larger. Wisconsin has a few very good dairy farm exceptions to this rule, but a large amount of land is needed along with very good management skills.

The reality is most Wisconsin dairy farms are best not approaching this size for these reasons. The overall environmental impact is much safer too. Eventually, Wisconsin can stop losing dairy farms, level off and maintain 5,000 dairy farms into the long-term future. Along with slowly growing the average herd size to, say, 1,000 dairy cows per farm, over time, this structure will then support 5 million dairy cows. That will provide a continual slow and steady growth of milk supply to the Wisconsin cheese plants over many future years.

There is even the opportunity to reverse the trend and start adding dairy farms and growing the number of dairy farms in Wisconsin. However, it has become nearly impossible for a young person without a family connection to an existing dairy farm, to start his or her own dairy farm.

Perhaps a program that allows existing Wisconsin dairy farms to donate dairy cows for a tax break and be a mentor to the new farmer is the answer. Once a want-to-be dairy farmer has met certain requirements and has found a dairy farm to buy, the cows are donated and these cows would allow the new farmer the needed collateral for a loan to buy the dairy farm and start milking immediately after purchase.

Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past and take the Wisconsin dairy industry for granted any longer. Let’ s ensure the long term existence and success of Wisconsin’s dairy farms, keep the milk flowing, continue making and selling the best cheese and truly live up to our monikers as
“America’s Dairyland” and the “World Epicenter for Cheese”. Then we’ll be World Series champions. Let’s hope the Brewers can turn it around too and do the same


The views expressed in this and Dan Strongin’s column do not necessarily represent the views of the Cheese Reporter.


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Jim Cisler is owner of Dairy Assets, LLC, a company that specializes in dairy mergers and acquisitions, consulting, finding financing for your projects, referrals and any other services as needed.

Cisler grew up on a farm in Northeastern Wisconsin.