July 13 2023 10:03 AM

This low milk price environment comes with more questions than answers.

As most dairy farmers know, the previous milk check was quite disheartening. It wasn’t really enough to breakeven with feed prices and labor, but, as always, we did what we could to make ends meet. The next milk check, which is due to arrive within the next few days, is projecting to be absolutely heartbreaking. It’s hard and discouraging to know how small the check will be after putting in all the work, time, blood, sweat, tears, and all else that is dairy farming. I hope one day they’ll consider a price floor to allow farmers to receive at the minimum enough to breakeven, but there is no indication of that at the moment.

I once made the statement that milk is such a fluid market — no pun intended. Its fluidity is consistent; one month it appears as if we make more than enough and the next we don’t even come close. It’s frustrating to plan out loans, crops, and all other aspects of the farm based on prices due to the unpredictability of the beast. Where you are from also plays a role in the amount you’ll receive. For example, I’m a Virginia dairy farmer, and although I ship Class I milk, I receive my check based off the average of Class III and IV. It doesn’t make much sense, but it is what it is no matter how much it doesn’t make sense to me.

Please keep in mind that I am a dairy farmer and not a milk check analyst. I do not understand the complexity of the milk check or the details involved in setting the price. Just like when folks complain about high gas prices, I’m entitled to complain about the low income from milk. As farmers, we work way too hard for way too little. As inflation rises, labor costs go up, fuel prices skyrocket, and it seems like everything else does too, farmers seem to get paid less and less each month.

Programs like Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) are great to have in cases like these. However, the questions revolving around government assistance is never ending. For example, how long will they be around? Will the farm bill include any assistance, or not? Will our pride allow us to get help, or will we keep chugging along no matter what? All these questions continue to swirl with no definitive answer. Just stay safe out there, everyone.

Courtney Henderson

The author is a sixth-generation farmer and fifth-generation dairy producer in southwest Virginia, where she and her family own and operate a 145-head Holstein dairy. Courtney is involved in agriculture organizations throughout her community and is a graduate of Virginia Tech.