Have you ever heard the saying, “Do you what you love and you won’t have to work a day in your life?” I bet if you ask most farmers, they would agree with that statement as most of them have become farmers after growing up while looking up to the generation that came before. They are farmers because they love what they do and they have a passion that runs deep. But lately, life as a dairy farmer has been tough.
Farming is a work all day to feed, mend, fix, plant, clean, pay, harvest, nurture, milk, and so much more, kind of job. It starts well before sunrise and ends after the sun has set. Farming is a lifestyle. It takes dedication, a work ethic like no other and the heart of a champion. At the end of the day, it’s a profession that only 1% of the population can proudly say they do.
So why are things so tough lately? In 2018, it is expected that 82% of US farm household income will come from off-farm work. (Source: USDA). Think about that for a minute. 82% of the people who work hard to ensure there is safe, healthy and an abundant amount of food on our table will also be working off the farm. This means after putting in a full day’s work on the farm, the farmer still can’t make ends meet.
It’s a complicated process of how farmers get paid but simply put, farmers get a milk check for the milk their cows produce but the issue is that farmers don’t set that price. Unlike most items that are for sale in a local community, milk is different. The producer (the farmer) has no say in what he/she receives for the product they produce so when the milk check arrives and is less than the amount of bills that have piled up, it doesn’t matter. However, bills have to get paid. Cows have to get milked. Crops must get planted so the cows can eat. And life must go on. But for how long?
As farmers evaluate their business and ultimately the future, it is inevitable that some family farms in New York and beyond will no longer be family farms. They will go out of business. They will sell their cows. They will focus on that second job that they thought would get them through the tough times.
But here’s where you can help. As farmers, we ask that you support us. Buy an extra gallon of milk tonight when you’re in the grocery store. Take the kids out for ice cream and splurge on the large cone instead of the small. Throw an extra slice or two of cheese on your burger this weekend. Do your part by drinking real milk, not the alternatives and ultimately, support dairy farmers. Support them by understanding this hard time they are going through. Stop by your neighbors’ farm and say thank you. Write them a quick note and say you’re proud to live in the same community as a dairy farmer. You’d be surprised at how far a simple gesture can go these days as dairy farmers face another long day of losing money and trying not to lose hope.
So as farmers focus their time on working endless hours, missing their son’s baseball game, their daughter’s dance recital or another family dinner, they are focused on doing what they love and figuring out how to make ends meet because all of the farmers that I know truly believe that the most successful people follow their passion, not a paycheck.