Wisconsin's entire dairy industry had a collective sick feeling in the pits of their stomachs over the past couple of days after hearing the news that various dairy plants are cutting off some of their farm patrons because of an oversupply of milk. Since the beginning of the year, several dairy processors have sent letters to affected customers stating that new Canadian dairy pricing rules means the U.S. can no longer send ultra-filtered milk up north. That was capped off with news reports on Tuesday confirming that Grassland Dairy Products in Greenwood and Nasonville Dairy near Marshfield were collectively dropping nearly 100 patrons within the coming weeks.
State Agriculture Secretary Ben Brancel told Wisconsin Ag Connection that the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture is scrambling to help those producers in any way it can.
"We immediately began making phone calls to other processors to see if they can create some openings to accept the milk from these farms that were dropped," Brancel said. "We have also been in touch with agricultural groups and processing associations, as well as U.S. trade officials to see if they can do anything to change the situation."
Brancel said the issue at hand is that certain providences in Canada have intentionally found a loophole in their trade agreements that aim to discourage U.S. exports of ultra-filtered milk. He said ultimately, these actions are aimed at removing competition for Canada's dairy industry.
Wisconsin Farm Bureau President Jim Holte said Wednesday that the entire situation is 'concerning' and cannot be taken lightly.
"The agricultural community needs to work together to find a solution so farmers don't have to make quick decisions that will have long-term impacts," Holte said. "We encourage dairy farmers dropped by their milk processor to contact the (DATCP) Farm Center so it can help with coordination of a new processor. The center is tracking the number of farmers impacted and is assisting in any way it can."
Industry leaders and many state and federal lawmakers have also sent letters to President Trump to address Canada's anti-competitive efforts to keep U.S. products out of its borders.
"The announcement that Grassland Dairy will be cutting its milk intake from our local farms because of new Canadian regulations preventing the sale of our dairy products in their country is not consistent with our values nor our agreements," said Congressman Mike Gallagher of Green Bay, who has many of the affected farm families in his district. "Trade must be free but fair, and Canada must play by the rules and end their protectionist policies."
Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson also issued statements, saying they would like to see if the situation can be investigated to determine if U.S. dairy exports were being unfairly blocked.
"Our state's dairy farmers are some of the best in the world, and they should not be the victims of a trade dispute they didn't start," Johnson said. "I urge the administration to work with the Canadian government and swiftly find a way to resolve this matter before hardworking Wisconsin farm families are hurt."
Both Grassland Dairy and Nasonville Dairy have each told media outlets that the decision to reduce the number of pick-up customers was 'extremely difficult' to make and could not be avoided because they have nowhere else to go with the extra milk they can no longer sell.
This article was originally published in the Wisconsin Ag Connection.