Update, Tuesday, March 15: An agreement has been reached between Price County and the milk hauler. With permits granted, milk will continue to be picked up as usual. Since the matter is resolved, there will not be a County Board meeting on Tuesday, March 15, regarding this matter. Thank you to those who shared concerns with public officials and helped to promptly resolve this issue.
– Corey Geiger, Managing Editor
“WILL WE STILL BE FARMING ON MARCH 16?”
That’s the question Peggy Holoubek Hainy asked late Friday evening in a message she started writing in all capital letters and eventually shared on her Facebook account. By Monday morning, Hainy’s post had been shared by over 600 individuals via social media channels.
“Never in the 40 years of us farming has the milk trucks been stopped from picking up milk until now,” Hainy later wrote. “Please keep us and the other farmers affected by this in your thoughts and prayers.”
Could farmers be forced to dump milk?
Dairy farmers across the country have had many battles during the pandemic. However, Price County’s 26 remaining dairy farmers with permits to sell milk in the state of Wisconsin now face a new battle. That battle is emanating from their own backyard in the northern reaches of America’s Dairyland.
It appears Price County’s elected officials and county staff members are poised to invoke great economic harm on and potentially put farmers out of business. That’s because Price County once again placed Temporary Weight Restrictions on its county roads due to the spring thaw beginning on Wednesday, March 16.
That alone is not the problem.
Dairy farmers in Price County and many regions throughout the northern U.S. have faced that annual rite of spring passage involving temporary weight restrictions for many years. Everyone knows that unnecessary travel is a no-no because heavy weights inflict damage on vulnerable roads during the spring thaw when ground becomes soft and water begins to move. But milk trucks have always been allowed to roll.
The problem this March is that Price County apparently refuses to offer exemptions for milk truck haulers for loads up to 75,000 pounds even though Wisconsin state statutes allow for such an exemption. Purportedly, county officials will continue to issue waivers for heating fuel and septic services. However, Price County wants to stand by its newly invoked 55,000-pound limit for milk trucks as of this morning, Monday, March 14.
Given the shortage of people holding CDLs (commercial driver license), the high costs of fuel, and the long distance to haul milk from one of Wisconsin’s northern-most dairy counties, one cheese plant has been telling farmers that they cannot pick up their milk beginning Wednesday, March 16, if Price County fully enforces its new weight restrictions.
To be clear, all other surrounding counties in the area continue to exempt milk trucks from the springtime temporary weight restrictions because those officials know that cows give milk each and every day and milk trucks must roll. However, some officials in Price County don’t see it that way.
Are farmers pawns in a road game?
Some people we talked to about this situation have suggested that some officials in the county have held firm because they are concerned funds are not available should milk trucks damage the roads and force costly repairs. Others have inferred that some county leaders are trying to send a message to the state capitol that they need more money to support local roads.
Whatever the case, these folks are posed to inflict economic harm to small business owners who have operated in Price County for generations.
Fixed by Tuesday?
Price County has a pair of public meetings scheduled on Tuesday, March 15 — just one day prior to the weight restrictions going into full effect. The first meeting involves the Price County Board of Supervisors.
The second meeting is the Price County Highway & Transportation Committee. That meeting will take place at 1:30 p.m. Agenda item No 2. is “Milk Haulers Exemption to Spring Weight Restrictions.” Since pandemic restrictions still prevail when it comes to in-person gatherings, the meeting agenda has a conference call number and a conference call code. Agenda item No. 1 is Public Comment and Communications.
Dairy farming is already hard enough. Milk is a perishable commodity.
Will Price County consider those economic circumstances regarding its 26 dairy farm business owners who try to eke out a living in the most northern reaches of America Dairyland and grant a waiver so the milk trucks can keep picking up milk?
Or will Price County officials hold firm and potentially inflict a mortal wound to its surviving farmers?
We will know that outcome this Tuesday.