Wisconsin dairy cooperative encourages dairy farmers to "quit" industry

WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - In what some in the dairy industry are calling an “unprecedented” move, the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery is encouraging members to “quit’ the dairy farming industry.

A letter obtained by NewsChannel 7 sent to members of the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery encouraging dairy farmers to quit the industry. (WSAW photo, 4/3/2020)

A letter obtained by NewsChannel 7 Friday reads “The board of directors has approved the following program to encourage members to quit dairy farming by paying the equity in the cooperative for the years 2010 to 2019 provided the following criteria is met by the member:”

The criteria that members need to meet, stated in the letter, said that the program is only for the first 100,000 pounds of milk per day of member milk; members must not sell their cows to an existing member of the cooperative; members must provide proof of where the cows went to the board of directors; the cows must be sold by April 15th and members will not be allowed to ship back to the cooperative without board approval.

“We know we have farmers that are not sure whether they are going to exit farming this year or next year,” explained Paul Bauer with the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery. “We felt that this was a way to incent our farmers to exit the business, perhaps a little earlier than what they expected, for the betterment of the entire patron base.”

Central Wisconsin farmers shared their thoughts on the situation at hand.

“They’re doing it because they’re trying to help out their farmers,” said Paul Lippert, who runs a Wood county dairy farm with his father and brother. “They’re facing a glut of milk; they don’t know what to do with it; it doesn’t look like things are going to get better very quickly.”

Marathon county farmer James Juedes fears that if things don’t change within the dairy industry, dairy cooperatives in central Wisconsin may soon follow suit.

“If we don’t do something now,” said Juedes. “Everyone’s going to be affected.”

Juedes says that the way things are going now will force the dairy industry to lose a lot of farms.

“If we can’t stay in business and provide the product for you,” added Juedes, “Then you’re not going to have the product.”

The COVID-19 pandemic along with several years of low milk prices has left the industry in troubling times. Several farms throughout Wisconsin have been asked to dispose of their milk while production plants struggle to keep up with the milk that is being produced.

Lippert says while not pretty, the coop’s offer to buy out their farmers gives them an option.

“It’s not just the milk being dumped today,” said Lippert. “The price of milk has just dropped; from 18 dollars for the whole year to now we’re looking at 12, 13, 14 dollar milk, nobody knows. They’re giving people an easy out, so say ‘Hey, we can help you out. Let’s get these cows out of production and you’ll still be whole’ versus ‘if we dump your milk for a month, where are you going to be at?’”

Bauer says the coop has several farmers who have expressed interest in participating in the program. They have until April 15th to sell their cows.