What do washing machines, climate change, and the dairy business have on common?
A new washing machine was just delivered to my basement. I am fortunate to have a tool to easily wash my clothes, with choices on how to wash them. And assuming it lasts many years, I have made a good investment.
I will soon receive a check for my milk that was picked up by the hauler in August. We sell milk from a rotational grazing, grass based dairy farm. I am thankful we have at least one place that is willing to pick up our milk. Selling washing machines is very different than selling milk from the farm.
Let’s do a comparison. Both dairy farmers and appliance dealers have a product to sell, and whether we are buyers or sellers, we need to make some profit to stay in business.
As far as the washing machine goes, I had many choices on where to shop, many choices on brands, models, types. Gas? Electric? Top load? Front load? Agitator? Frankly, all I really needed was a machine to get dirt and smells out of my clothes, but lots of choices seem to be the American way.
As a dairy farmer, my choices are much more limited. I am doubtful I could get another hauler to pick up my milk if I left my current buyer. I am limited on how much milk I can sell to the buyer. I pay for hauling the milk, and they choose the hauler. I have no choice on the price I get paid or how the price is determined, I do not get paid for my milk until next month.
As a citizen of this rural area, I am pleased to pay taxes in exchange for the services received. Services such as road maintenance, law enforcement, and agriculture programs are good. I have received good financial help in establishing fencing, water lines, and manure handling systems for our 170-cow dairy. These improvements to our farm benefit the land and help keep us in business – they are a good use of public funds. We keep the ground covered with deep-rooted plants year-round, minimizing runoff and soil erosion. CAFO dairies, with their practice of concentrating so any cows in one place, put our water at risk, especially in this karst region. Any support we receive from the government pales in comparison to how some programs support dairies by subsidizing their manure systems. The government ends up feeding the unchecked growth of those mega-dairies while feeding dairies like us less money. Society benefits from a diversified farming system, not one dominated by corporate farms. But taxpayers, through the Farm Bill, are supporting the former system.
Making, selling and buying washing machines has many parts to the system.
Making, selling and buying milk also has many parts. Like me spending money on a washing machine, we need to make good choices on and provide incentives for mitigating extreme weather caused by climate change. There is no one single answer, but a good Farm Bill that supports farms that sequester carbon by building soil health is a start. Another part of the puzzle is passing the “Milk From Family Dairies Act,” which would ensure dairy farmers like ourselves a fair price for their product. If we are to have lots of innovative small and medium-sized farmers on the land building carbon in the soil, they need a fair price for their product. And moratoriums on emissions-emitting CAFOs and the breaking up of consolidated mega-companies would give family farmers a fair marketplace to compete in.
Farms like ours are carbon sinks already. Why not sink money into farming practices already working, enticing more farms to be regenerative? That makes more sense than subsidizing polluting CAFOs or energy companies that will extract iron to make and bury “carbon storage” systems, in the process emitting more greenhouse gases than they trap.
It all comes out in the wash: Climate change and making economically sensible decisions is just one more reminder that “Farming is truly everybody’s bread, butter and water.”