2018 has seen hundreds (thousands before year-end?) of dairy farms exit the business in the United States. There are many reasons for this exodus which I won’t address today. I’d rather we step back and ask ourselves, as a dairy community and society: “What do we want our communities to look like?”
We may not think about the fact that we, as a society, have a choice. We can choose to have a “free market” free-for-all where only the strong survive. This group of survivors will milk more cows and be fewer in number. Instead of 100 dairies in a county we may see 10. Or 2. Or none. Choosing this approach means fewer dairies and fewer businesses supporting them. We know what this looks like - just drive through areas that were once strong dairy areas and observe the abandoned dairy facilities and empty businesses. Many will argue that this erosion of dairy farm numbers is inevitable. Of course economics plays a role - some dairies will fall behind in profitability and exit. I’ll submit that total decimation of a industry is inevitable only if we allow it be.
What’s the alternative? Some societies have chosen to make serious efforts to retain dairies. We have examples of this approach around the globe, witness Canada and many EU countries. What have these countries done differently? There are usually a number of factors but a quota system and/or direct government subsidies are common. Also common is that consumers pay a higher price for dairy products. The bottom line is that In these countries citizens (tax payers and consumers) have decided that higher taxes and grocery prices are prices worth paying to keep their dairy communities strong.
In the U.S. we often allow our desire for low taxes and low food prices to obscure the impact of those choices on our communities. There is no “free lunch”. Low taxes and food prices carry their own price.