Farm Horizons, February 2003

Low prices prompt more dairy herd sales

By Lynda Jensen

A 17-week stretch of low milk prices prompted several area dairy farmers to sell their herds recently.

"There's been a lot of herds going," commented farmer and seed dealer Mark Diers of Howard Lake. Diers is the district manager for Producers Hybrids.

This is a trend that Extension Agent Joe Neubauer noticed as well.

"With the low prices of milk, they just cannot compete," Neubauer said. "It really got bad last year," he added.

Chuck and Leanne Gutzmann of rural Winsted sold their herd of 60 at the end of October.

"The prices were so bad," Chuck said. "It was one of those things ­ a business decision."

Gutzmann previously owned one of the top 10 dairy herds in McLeod County, as recognized by the Dairy Herd Improvement Association. The Gutzmanns have three children, Jessica, 16, Alyssa, 14, and Gage, 12.

Now, Gutzmann is keeping about 100 heifers, along with his 210 acres of corn and soybeans, he said.

Jerry and Bonnie Salonek also sold their herd of 85 dairy cows at the end of August, she said.

"We had to get out while the going we good," Bonnie Salonek said. The Saloneks operate a farm two miles south of Montrose.

The Saloneks are still raising 200 head of heifers and steers, with 700 acres of corn and soybeans.

Ted Salonek Jr., also from Montrose, described the milk prices as "brutal."

Frustration with prices caused farmer Jeff Hart to get out of dairying altogether ­ selling his herd of 130 dairy cows in September. Jeff and Terri Hart live eight miles west of Watertown.

"We made the call before the banker made the call," Hart said. "Everybody keeps calling it a business ­ so we made a business decision," he said.

"How long can you burn up what you gain?" Hart asked. The Harts dairy farmed for nine years.

Now, Jeff works full time in excavation, and the Harts operate a hobby farm of 60 acres. They still have about 50 steers, he said.

"The government has put a ceiling on what people will be paid for milk," Salonek Jr. said. "It's not fair."

Hart agreed with this wholeheartedly. The system is designed for failure to family farms, he said. Gutzmann agreed as well.

The end result is making it impossible for family dairy farmers to make a profit or living, Hart pointed out.

Salonek Jr. sold his herd of 120 cows nearly two years ago, but he still keeps up with dairying news.

"If the prices were OK, we'd still be milking," Salonek Jr. said.

Now, he tends about about 800 to 1,000 acres and raises about 180 replacement heifers, he said.

Some dairy farmers are turning to raising heifers as a way for them to use their existing facilities, Neubauer said. This is good because it gives farmers access to quality replacements, he said.

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