Leo Harrison and his wife Amanda farmed a small dairy farm in Whatcom County. Unfortunately, their farm of 80 Jersey cows has fallen victim to the economic pressures facing all dairies.
In the current economic environment, most dairies are losing money. That means we will lose more dedicated family farmers like Leo and Amanda.
Here's recent information on the economic state of dairy farms across the country from Hoard's. It's not a pretty picture.
Dairy farm profits and risks of expensive, unnecessary regulations
Most want to save our family farms. Even those not familiar with the economics of farming believe family farms are a good idea, especially smaller ones.
But we've heard comments like: "Farmers are just like other businesses, just out for the profits." "Why are farmers complaining about new regulations? They can afford them."
Farmers aren't against smart, reasonable and effective regulations. Most today recognize without the regulations like the Dairy Nutrient Management Act they wouldn't be where they are in great improvements in water protection. But legislators, regulators and environmentalists proposing new regulations need to keep in mind the challenge of commercial farming (that is farming to make a living) in today's global economy.
Much of the focus of the What's Upstream attacks and those from Western Environmental Law Center's Andrea Rodgers is on dairies, particularly larger dairies. Almost all dairies in our state are family dairies. That means that the goal is normally to pass on the farm to the next generation, not generate the profits and value to sell out. That's one thing that makes farming quite a bit different from a lot of other businesses, especially big corporations.
But just how profitable are family dairy farmers? Even a rudimentary economics education teaches that profits are essential if a farm is to stay in business. But profits are almost impossible to come by currently for dairy farms, large and small. Recent reports show that dairies across the nation are losing money.
How expensive but unnecessary regulations can destroy family dairy farms
Here Save Family Farming president Larry Stap stands next to his steel manure containment tank. It's one of many environmental investments made by the small, third generation family farmer.
Regulations pushed by the What's Upstream sponsors would not impact water quality in any substantive way, but would add very expensive new requirements on farmers. 75% or more of Washington State farmers would be forced out if the draconian manure liner regulations promoted by Western Environmental Law Center were to be enacted by the Department of Ecology.
It would be one thing if farmers were causing the kind of environmental damage that What's Upstream and the Law Center's Andrea Rodgers claims. But these claims are not anywhere near the truth.
As an example, the manure lagoon regulations promoted by Rodgers and others are based on the false assertion of massive pollution from manure lagoons. It's just not true, as this video makes clear.
Economic Report Shows Very Difficult Time for Dairy Farmers
Frazer LLP is a CPA firm working with many dairy farms across Western states. They reported on profitability, more correctly, unprofitability of most dairy farms. Here's a summary:California:
San Joaquin Valley, California: Dairy farms lost $208 per cow or 97 cents per hundredweight (cwt.)
Kern County, California: Lost $145 per cow or 68 cents per cwt.
Southern California: Lost $7 per cow or 4 cents per cwt.
Other Western States:
New Mexico: Dairy farms lost $325 per cow or $1.94 per hundredweight (cwt.)
Pacific Northwest (Washington and Oregon): Lost $30 per cow or 16 cents per cwt.
Arizona: Lost $27 per cow or 14 cents per cwt.
Texas Panhandle: Earned $68 profit per cow or 31 cents per cwt.
Idaho: Earned $238 profit per cow or 98 cents per cwt.
To read the entire 2015 Frazer study, Dairy Farm Operating Trends, click the link.
Bacteria in Water: Are Farmers Unfairly Blamed?
Bacteria in surface water (streams and rivers) is a hot issue. Particularly in Whatcom County where once again Lummi Nation shellfish beds are closed. They were closed in the mid-1990s and it was determined then that the 100 dairies in the county were likely the primary contributors. But after the 1998 Dairy Nutrient Management Act was passed and enforcement by Ecology and Dept of Agriculture, water quality significantly improved as noted even by the Lummi Nation in their 2008 Atlas.
Then, starting late 2013 bacteria counts increased again. Anti-farm critics such as the sponsors of What's Upstream were quick to blame farmers, even getting KOMO TV to present a completely false report about this situation.
So, what happened? If dairy farms are not to blame for this increase, who is? Where is the contamination coming from?
This new video from Whatcom Family Farmers explores this important topic. But it applies not just to Whatcom County, but to all areas in our state where farms and non-farm development live side-by-side.
April 27, 2017 Bloomberg Report Shows Dairy Industry Struggles