In Aug. 6 IssueBy Greg WellsTimes Journal Managing Editor
"I get $12 a hundred-weight for milk right now," said Wayne Gosser. "That is the same price I got in the early '70s."
He said it wouldn't be a problem if diesel was still 18-cents a gallon like it was then. But then the cost of insurance, feed and all the other farm costs have more than doubled, tripled or even more since then.
Meanwhile back at the grocery, milk that was just over $1 in 1972 and now that same gallon is often near $4.
"This is hard times for the family farm," Gosser said.
There were over 20 dairies on the same road as his farm Gosser said, but now there are only 6.
County Extension Agent Raymond Thompson said the county had has gone from 130 dairies in 1982 to only about 25 now and all but one of those are small family operations.
"Right now milk prices are depressed," Thompson said.
He attributed the prices to the economy indirectly.
"In part it is because cheese prices are down. That's because of a surplus," he said. "You can trace that back to people not going out to eat as much because of the economy."
But the present problems are only part of the issue, since there has been a declining number of dairies in the area for years.
He said that what amounts to factory farms in California, Wisconsin and closer by in Indiana are buying bulk feeds and operating on an entirely different scale of milk production than most Kentucky farms.
For some years the Kentucky Agricultural Statistics Report has shown a decline in the number of milk cows in the commonwealth.
Barren Adair and Metcalfe Counties each have between twice to three-times the number of milk cows and calves that Russell County has.
That is mirrored nationally by Kentucky's standing with California which brings in well over four times as much money from dairy production and Wisconsin which is well over three times.
Thompson attributed parts of the state's problems to the scale of production, and other on-farm issues, but agreed the milk boards in those other two states have been very proactive.
"They definitely have some politics behind them," Thompson said of the other state programs.
Gosser pointed out that less than 2 percent of the population are farmers now, and with the decline in numbers comes falling political power.
And unionizing to press for better prices from the dairy companies isn't a likely option.
"You know farmers are a pretty independent bunch," Gosser said.
While he and others are sorting out where they are going to find a profit in milk, he said the "middleman" is the one getting the biggest part of the price difference between the less than $1 a gallon he is paid and the nearly $4 milk costs at the grocery.
Gosser is still scratching his head on how they can continue to milk, while his son Samuel is going off to college, for an agri-business degree.
"He wants to milk," he said of the younger Gosser.
Samuel and Wayne said the younger Gosser was in his little chair, hanging from the pipeworks in milking parlor when was just 6-weeks old and he's been there ever since.
"You don't get any vacations," Samuel said. "There isn't a lot of profit, the hours are long."
In fact he can rattle off a long list of why someone wouldn't want to farm and especially wouldn't want to be a dairy farmer for a living, but he wouldn't consider doing anything else.
But working outside and the independence of the farming life is all this college freshman has been looking forward to as a career. The question his father has is how much longer will young people feel that way.
There are questions of what will become of the country if farming isn't attractive to the youth of America.
"We'll be in a real fix if we have to start importing our food," Gosser said. "I don't think other countries will be too easy on us."
Thompson said Kentucky is a net importer of milk.