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Our View: Dairy farmers in need of help — now

March 15, 2019 GMT

Dairy farmers — the foundation for Minnesota’s family farm tradition and the backbone of the rural economy — are in serious trouble. Weak raw milk prices in recent months combined with a harsh winter have taken an immense toll.

The crisis hasn’t received the attention it deserves, which is why Saturday’s visit to Rob and Katie Kreidermacher’s Altura-area dairy farm by federal and state elected officials was important and appreciated. The Kreidermachers are among several farms across the state who suffered roof collapses caused by heavy snow.

Attention must lead to action, which Gov. Tim Walz and U.S. Tina Smith promised during the farm visit. The Legislature has responded to the crisis by quickly moving to provide loan money and working to encourage speedy payment of insurance money. The Rural Finance Authority is considering providing zero-interest loans to producers for natural disaster recovery.

The potential for federal assistance is uncertain. Dairy farmers have access to the Dairy Protection Program through which producers can purchase insurance policies that protect them from low milk prices. The program is woefully inadequate and insurance policies can be expensive.

Walz seems to understand what’s at stake for Minnesota’s entire economy.

“These dairy farms are the bedrock of the economy and their communities,” the governor said during Saturday’s event. “What we need to do is keep these dairy farms up and running.’’

It is a tall task, given low prices caused by overproduction and falling milk demand. Minnesota’s dairy industry has been in a decades-long decline. There are approximately 3,000 dairy farms in the state, a mere fraction of operations that existed during the industry’s heyday.

Raw milk helped to build cooperatives like Land O’Lakes and private companies and created jobs. A study done in the 1980s found that each $1 of profit earned by producers generates $7 worth of economic activity the communities in which they are located.

Dairy isn’t the only farming enterprise that’s struggling. Grain producers are suffering from below-the-cost of production prices and high land and fertilizer costs.

A quote by turn of the 20th century politician and writer William Jennings Bryan seems appropriate.

“Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.”

Minnesota’s farm economy is struggling and action is needed at the federal and state levels to prevent a repeat of the 1980s great depression in agriculture, which took an immense toll on farmers and rural communities.

We appreciate the high-level attention February’s record snow and the resulting disaster on farms has brought. We expect Walz, Smith, ag department Commissioner Thom Petersen, Reps. Jeanne Poppe and Steve Drazkowski and Sen. Michael P. Goggin to bring the Legislature to action this week. There is no time to waste.