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CLAYTON RYE

By Staff | Jul 3, 2009

Yesterday morning I was listening to an AM radio show from a Chicago station. It was about 6 a.m. and the host was reading about the problems in the dairy industry with low milk prices.

It did not take more than a few seconds to realize the host did not have any grasp of the dairy business at all and he as much as admitted it. What he could not understand is why a dairy would sell their product at less than it cost them to produce it. As far as he was concerned, the dairy had two choices. It could hold the milk off the market until prices improved or simply pour the milk down the drain.

I wanted to call and fill the host in about the dairy business. Dairies sell their product by the hundredweight. Every day is another day of production. It is perishable and cannot be stored until prices improve like we grain farmers do with a bin of corn or soybeans. I wanted to ask him why would anyone destroy their product and take a 100 percent loss instead of a 10 percent or 20 percent loss just to make a point?

As much as I wanted to call in, I did not because I am not in the dairy business. Since it was early and this was a Clear Channel station covering several states, I thought there would be someone more knowledgeable than me listening and would call. There had to be dairy barn with a radio on somewhere in the four or more states the station covered where someone with real dairy experience would call in with the facts.

Then there was a caller. It was a man from Michigan. I thought now there will be someone saying what is needed to be said about current market conditions with facts about dairying. I was wrong.

The man from Michigan told the host that ever since ethanol had been introduced it has made a mess of prices and this was another example. That was it. There were no more calls about low prices in the dairy industry.

What conclusions can be made from this? First, I am surprised at the radio show host’s complete lack of knowledge about supply and demand. This is a person to whom I enjoy listening as he takes a no-nonsense approach to many of the same things I am troubled by happening today.

He reflected an attitude I hear on talk shows and read in newspapers (not this one, of course) that treats farmers as if they do not know how to run their businesses. They insinuate and sometimes simply say we farmers are out here making the same mistakes over and over – that are not capable of learning from them.

The solutions offered by these people who spend their days sitting at a desk and computer (with weekends off) start off with the words, “Why don’t they just ?” To them the answer seems so obvious and simple when all that is showing is their complete ignorance of the entire situation.

This short-lived event on the radio was also a missed opportunity to not let ethanol be blamed for creating a problem. A by-product of ethanol is the DDGs that are typically fed to cattle. It is excellent cattle feed and the hopper bottom railroad cars that are loaded with the DDGs at the ethanol plant are headed for dairies.

I am wondering why a dairy producer did not call in to tell about today’s situation. Are there so few dairy producers left or, since it was 6 a.m., were they too busy with their morning’s work to stop and call the radio show?

We food producers have a story to tell that is not reaching all the people who need to hear it. We cannot wait for someone else to tell it.

We members of the agriculture industry have our work cut out for us. There is a lot of ignorance in the public about how markets work and what is required to grow a bushel of grain, a pound of meat, or a gallon of milk.The gap between the grower and the consumer has widened and it will continue to do so.

Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at crye@wctatel.net.

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