This holiday season, there are lots of articles on what to get your mother-in-law or the man that has everything. There’s even some blogs on what to buy your farmer, here and here. But what does a dairy farmer really want Santa to bring? Sure a nice pair of new gloves, a Yeti mug to keep coffee hot and a beer of the month subscription are nice, but dairy farmers – and farmers in general – require much more than the materialistic gifts that we often think of this holiday season. Farmers need real items to help them survive – and possibly thrive in the new year! Here are just a couple items that I know my farmer would love in his Christmas stocking.
A fair price.
It’s not too much to ask for a fair price for your goods, is it? For the past several years, the price farmers receive for their milk hasn’t been great. In fact, it barely covers the costs of production and in many cases doesn’t. The inconsistency of prices compounds the complexity of running a business with already tight margins. Milk prices have historically gone up and down, and in recent years, the ups and downs have been more dramatic, with the downs lasting longer. This isn’t an item you can easily put in your Amazon cart, but it is something that has been wanted by dairy farmers for a long time.
A mild winter.
While this is totally out of anyone’s hands, why not dream for a winter that provides some snow, but not too much snow all at once. Snow is a form of precipitation and our soils will need that moisture come spring. No snow will leave our soils dry, but 3’ snowstorm isn’t helpful either as it gobbles up unnecessary time to get dug out. A mild winter would also entail moderate temperatures. While the cows don’t mind the cold – and farmers don’t either as they are usually dressed for it – negative temps and harsh winds are just no fun to work in.
Employees who care.
Or how about employees in general. It’s getting harder and harder to find people who are willing to work the long hours required on a farm. Labor is one of the top issues facing agriculture today – so finding employees willing to work alongside our farmers is key. The bonus: finding employees who truly care about the well-being of our animals. Dairy farmers love their cows! They regularly put the needs of their cows before their own, and it is critical to find employees with that same level of commitment to ensure a top level of care is provided – always!
For those who garden, you’ll understand this – you never have enough space to plant all that you want to. The same is true for farmers. Regardless of how many cows a farmer has, the desire to have more land is always there. On average, dairy farmers raise 60% of their cow’s dietary needs, and would provide more if they had the land to do so. Think about stocking your freezer to feed your family – you’d rather have more than not enough. Farmers are no different.
Clean water is so important for farmers and they work hard every day to ensure water quality is never compromised. They spend time and resources every year to install greater conservation practices that not only aid in crop production and soil retention, but water quality as well. And the water isn’t just for the cows. Most farmers live on or near the farm and so they are consuming the water too.
You may have heard the saying: healthy cows produce healthy milk. Well, it’s true! Dairy farmers strive to make their animals not only healthy, but comfortable too. If they are successful, they are rewarded with highly productive animals. If a cow does become sick, it is important for a farmer to be able to tend to her needs and get her the care she needs to feel better. That’s no different than how we would treat our own children. So pray for health!
Time with their family.
I should clarify – time with their family off the farm. Most farmers would seek time to relax and hit the pause button for a moment before it’s time to go back to check on a cow calving or time to milk. Time away is critical in any profession – and farming is no different. Time away allows one to recharge their batteries and that is so necessary to maintaining mental health and overall physical health. This is also where the need for employees comes in – so that farmers can afford to take an afternoon or morning off.
Last but not least, farmers want compassionate neighbors. Farming is hard enough without criticism from others who don’t understand what it takes to get through the day on a farm. Sure mistakes happen and communication is not always where it should be, but to have people who give their farmer neighbor the benefit of the doubt, rather than quick to accuse would mean the world to them. If you have a farmer neighbor, please don’t hesitate to reach out to them to give them praise when deserved, or to try and learn more about their business. Like any of us, positive reinforcement goes a long way!
If only a fraction of these items were under the tree this season, our farmers would be truly blessed. It’s not a matter of being naughty or nice, all farmers deserve a fair shake for putting food on our tables and contributing to our local communities they way they do. So please remember the farmers who will be tending to their herds before stockings are opened, just as they do everyday.