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August 24, 2020

Wisconsin Survey Shows Depth of Dairy Farm Stress

 |  By: Jim Dickrell

A fairly comprehensive survey of Wisconsin dairy farms conducted in March shows the depth of stress being experienced—even before COVID-19 reached its peak and disrupted markets.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) conducted the survey, sending out questionnaires to all 7,108 licensed dairy farms in the state in March. Some 2,871 surveys were returned for a response rate of 41%. And even though this is an extremely high return, it is unknown how representative the survey is of all dairy farmers in the state thus results cannot be generalized, say DATCP officials.

Still, results show dairy farmers are expressing signs of stress, with just under 10% who responded felt the need for help with mental health. About 6% of respondents say they actually received it.

Survey respondent did report a fairly high rate of risk management tool use, with 54% reporting they used Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) insurance. Surprisingly though, DMC use was highest in herds with 100 cows or more, averaging above 70%. About a third of respondents with less than 50 cows used DMC. Dairy Revenue Protection insurance was used by about 20% of respondents, with herds with more than 300 cows using it most heavily. And about 70% of herds with more than 200 cows locked in input costs.

Eighty-three percent of respondent say they will still be operating their dairy farms in 5 years, with the percentage growing from 77% of those with less than 50 cows to 93% for those with more than 700. The biggest barrier to continuing farming for all respondents was extreme weather conditions followed by regulations and managing day-to-day expenses.

The biggest dairy industry disrupter was balancing milk supply and demand. Almost a fourth of the respondents reported that their milk buyer had instituted a supply management plan. The second biggest disruptor was regulations, and the third, animal welfare.

Labor is another large concern on about a fourth of the responding dairies, with 23% reporting they will need to hire more labor within the next 2 years. Eighty-four percent say they would hire a military veteran and nearly half say they would hire someone who had been incarcerated.

Succession planning is another issue facing these farmers, with just 42% of respondents identifying someone to take over the farm. About three-fourths of these farms already have a succession plan in place.

On the other hand, 30% of respondents do not know what will happen to their farms when they retire. The biggest barriers to succession planning are finding a successor, having enough financial capacity on the farm to support more owners and too much debt.

You can view all 2020 survey results here.