Drought creating new challenges for local dairy farmers; Overproduction of milk worsens

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(ABC 6 News) – With little to no rain throughout southeastern Minnesota, dairy farmers in the area are presented with new challenges.

It all comes down to planting. Farmers like Jeff Pagel cannot grow their livestock feed with no rain, creating difficulties when feeding the cows on the farm.

That’s not the only reason though, Pagel says this year is becoming one of the worst years for farmers in decades.

The cows, the barns, itls more than just a farm to Pagel. Paclear farms has been in his family for four generations.

“We work long days, long hour. It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” Pagel said.

Pagel says he cannot remember a year where the drought was this bad.

“I’ve been here my whole life and I don’t ever remember it this bad,” he said. “We need rain really bad.”

Because without the rain, farmers like Pagel have to find alternative ways to feed their dairy cows, but can be extremely expensive.

Even when the milk hits the shelves, the price of fluid milk has taken a sharp decline and farms like Pagel’s can start to lose money.

“It doesn’t look real promising for the rest of the year, so unfortunately there’s gonna be some people that, whether its by choice or not, they’re gonna have to exit the dairy business which you never want to see,” Pagel explained.

In fact, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture says 1,000 farms have decided to leave the business.

In the last month, 22 farms have decided that they just could not make ends meet.

“It’s not unique to Minnesota but its felt in southeast Minnesota just because we do have a lot of dairy farms and dairy is an important part of the economy,” said the commissioner of the MN Dept. of Agriculture, Thom Petersen.

Petersen says that this area hosts the top ten dairy producers in the state.

While many farmers are deciding to throw in the towel, Pagel says that Paclear Farms is not giving up just yet and he is making every drop of milk count.

One thousand gallons of milk comes off of the farm each day using 130 cows.

“Consistency with the cows is key and this is a consistent way to milk the cows,” Pagel said as he used a mechanical pumping device to milk the cows twice daily.

While overproduction is a problem on many dairy farms, farming is just never easy, according to Pagel.

“It ebbs and flows like the economy and we just have to wait for it to balance itself out again,” he said.

It is a low point for farmers this year, but Pagel and Petersen hope they can continue to persevere.

“Hopefully we don’t have to get there, hopefully we can keep doing what we do because it sure is a nice way to live,” Pagel said.

While Pagel admits there is a life beyond cows, he says this is the life that he lives for.

All he and his family can do for now, is pray for some rain and relief.