There has been a lot of talk lately about the efficiencies of large-scale dairies and concern that the smaller farms can’t survive. I believe there are several reasons why we need dairies of all sizes to not only survive but to prosper as well.
1. Political capital — At the national, state, and local level, dairy farm numbers are reducing to a point that we will have little to no chance to have our opinions heard by those who govern us. It does not matter how great of a financial impact dairy has as a commodity if there are only a few votes associated with it.
2. Biosecurity — Heavy concentrations of livestock in too few geographical areas could be a recipe for disaster.
3. Infrastructure and vendors — We all need the equipment dealer, feed company, A.I. salesman, and so forth. As farm numbers drop, we lose these valuable assets and their support of our dairies. More importantly, we lose the competition and price savings we get when they compete.
4. The face of dairy — I have seen some impressive large farms that were clean and well-managed. A few of them do tours and are active on social media, but they will always have a harder time overcoming the “mega-farm” connotation that scale brings with it. There are a lot of smaller farms scattered throughout the country that do a great job representing all farms that are needed to be the face of dairy.
5. University and extension support — It will be more difficult to maintain dairy science programs, research, and degrees in dairy science as farm numbers fall.
6. Diversity — My dad always told me that you can visit any dairy and find some idea they came up with that will help you on your own farm. Each farm acts as its own mini experiment station, trying new ideas, inventing new techniques, and figuring out solutions to problems that plague us all.
We need to work together to come up with innovative ideas on marketing our products, balancing supplies, and promoting ourselves to the consumer better. Great ideas are grown one at a time on farms of all sizes.
Mark and Caitlin Rodgers are dairy farmers in Dearing, Georgia. Their “Father and Daughter Dairy Together” column appears every other Thursday on HD Notebook. The Rodgers have a 400-cow dairy that averages 32,000 pounds of milk. Follow their family farm on Facebook at Hillcrest Farms Inc.