Sometimes people say the funniest things.
Wisconsin State Senator Howard Marklein convened his annual Agriculture Economic Outlook Forum last week and headlined it with the question: "Is there a new 'normal' for the agricultural economy?"
As these things tend to be, he convened talking heads from government, also known as college professors, to explain how we're supposed to think about things. In the past 15 years, Wisconsin has lost half of its dairy farmers, but not a single cow. Think about what that means for a moment. The number of dairy farmers nationwide has gone from 1.1 million in 1965 to 80,000 in 2015. When you see that plotted on a graph, it's quite a downward swoop. But cow numbers are stable.
So what does the government expert say? Dr. Marin Bozic from the University of Minnesota came over to Wisconsin (after all, you have to get someone from farther than 100 miles away to have the credibility to tell you what to think) and said consolidation "is as old as civilization itself" moving toward production efficiency and higher yields, noting that ancient Egypt went through a similar thing.
I find that hilarious. Do you mean to tell me that the nearest and best example to lend credence to the concentration in the American dairy industry is ancient Egypt? And in the language of Dr. Phil: "How's that workin' out for ya'?" If there is one model I'd like to see America become, it's Egypt. Now there's a picture of ecological, economic, and emotional utopia.
Of all the comparisons he could have used to bolster his point that we have nothing to fear about mega-dairies and the demise of the family farm, he chooses ancient Egypt. As if anyone knows enough about that time period and its agricultural consolidation nuances--bet it wasn't dairy--to argue the point. Sure, pick some obscure ancient time period as the litmus test for success. It's bizarre at best, and purposely misleading at worst.
Everyone at the summit agreed that fluid milk consumption will continue to lose market share to coconut, soy, and almond milk, the prices are trending down, and dairies will become bigger and bigger. What's the answer? More cheese and exports. That's the official word from our tax dollars at work.
I have another alternative: how about legalizing raw milk so farmers who actually produce really good, nutritious, super tasting milk can access their neighbors with real milk? All those competitors don't hold a candle to the real thing, but folks have gotten so tired of vapid tasteless chalk from mega-dairies they're leaving the market in droves, and I don't blame them. I would too if I didn't have grass-based raw milk.
Just another example of how our tax dollars get well spent on experts with the best perspectives your money can buy. Who cares if 80-cow dairies become 160 become 320 become 640 become 1,280? It's ancient Egypt at its best. What's not to love?
If you were at this summit, what would you have told dear public employee Dr. Bozic?