New Years Isn’t Always Happy on the Farm

This morning as I read through some of the thoughts of friends on Twitter a single tweet from @farmelady Diane Heckman from central Pennsylvania jumped out at me.

When you see something like that, you almost have to say something to encourage the person facing such a tough time! I also felt like I needed to look at other tweets and her blog to see if I could better understand what was happening.

Sadly, Diane’s story was somewhat familiar to me. It’s something I’ve better understood in the past two years as I’ve gotten to know more dairy farmers through social media. Saying it’s somewhat familiar doesn’t make it any easier to take though. But I will put it together here in case some reading this blog post. 

farmelady Diane Heckman dairy farmer PA

I read through this morning’s timeline and noticed that among the tweets she was sending about something so heavily weighing on her mind, were replies of holiday greetings, talk of new books to read and thanks for people who, like me, offered some sense of support from far away.

The tweets she sent out broadly follow (for those not used to Twitter, remember there are character counts that limit you to 140 so we all abbreviate a lot):

can smell the pork and saukrt cooking in the oven downstairs, need to make mashed pot. and the dumplings and add some hot dogs to saukrt

cloudy, calling for rain , yuck ! at least dont have to go anywhere, after everyone leaves going park myself in recliner and start new book

husband said need to start advertsg the cows for sale. hope get enough to pay off some of bills .

once cows are sold, husband will start working for Twp. He is a Twp. Supervisor now and so glad he will be able to work for Twp.

Still too young for SS ,so have to have something else for income. just hope all works out and can pay off most of our bills n can keep farm

little grandson wont understand why we arent going to barn anymore , too young

hope to sell cows by spring , will keep a few , want to still have our own beef

makes me so mad that we are not getting a decent price for our milk!!!!!!! if dairy farmers were not getting cheated could maybe go on

Maybe even with better milk prices would still have sold cows, husband will turn 62 in Jan, Has knee problems, farming very hard on body

also has trouble with his arms and back, just falling aprt, getting old is not fun ! LOL !

little grandson goes to door in mornings and says Pap, knows we go out and get barn clothes on and go to barn and see Pap

Looking at those tweets, tears come to my eyes. A family dairy farm is part dairy, part family and you see that so clearly in her words. The understanding that the dairy business is tough economically, probably became clearest to me when I spent a day on Twitter with Ray Prock (@Raylindairy and blog) as we #moo’ed. Another dairyman, Will Gilmer (@GilmerDairy and blog) wrote a great blog post on the #moo effort and followed it up with some of the news coverage that came as a result.

The milk prices farmers receive dropped so incredibly low in the last few years has been added to a rise in input costs like feed and fuel, that all dairy farms I know of are having trouble. Even though there has been some price recovery the it is not enough to help farmers come out of the previous downturn.

To lose a job you love… a business you are passionate about… that is so incredibly hard that I don’t know how many of us can take it. And then to know that losing that business changes virtually every area of your life…. well, the tears are here for a reason.

The image of a grandson and granddad no longer having that reason to put on their boots & head to the barn may permanently reside on my eyelids.  But I have hope that Diane and her family will find a way to keep the farm, the way so many other dairy farmers have. That they will keep some of their cows and have reason to go to their barn.


January 2, 2011 – Diane has posted to her blog as well on the topic.

About Janice Person

I'm Janice & this blog is about my passions -- photography, travel, agriculture & whatever else comes to mind. Putting all those things together is intriguing to me…. I can spend a lot of time soaking it up! It's almost always a colorful adventure!

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14 Responses to New Years Isn’t Always Happy on the Farm

  1. bobkinford January 1, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

    That is not just a familiar story for those who own a family farm, but for many of those who have spent their lives farming or running cattle for other people. I have seen too many people, loving their work, and the lifestyle, wind up broken down, broke, and trying to adjust to a town job. Yet rather than going on welfare like people do in the urban areas, they just keep working at whatever will keep the wolf from the door for another day. Sad that those of us who take care of the masses by providing them food, or raw material for the fabric they wear have the smallest safety net of all.

  2. crystalcattle January 1, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    My heart goes out to this family and others who are in this situation. The part that worries me is I’m not sure what the solution is. Have some of these people offered suggestions on how they can get more dollars for their product?

  3. bobkinford January 1, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    The problem is that market prices for ag products are based on the commodities market which have nothing to do with cost of production. Their only hope would be to find ways to cut production costs to increase their profit margin.
    There could be a chance for an added income if they are close enough to a metropolitan area to set up the farm as an educational bed and breakfast. A target customer base would be inner city teachers. Teach the teachers about what it takes to produce dairy products, and they in turn could teach their students.

  4. Lana January 1, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    This story tugs at my heart strings because we were a small dairy for 40 years. I say “we” but it was actually my husband and his family. They milked the entire time Steve and I dated, but the cows and equipment sold in April before we married in June. We had about 60-80 milking cows with calves and an ornery bull. They were at a time when we either needed to completely update all the milking equipment at a very pricey cost, or stop because we had acquired more ground to farm.

    Our getting out of dairy wasn’t an attempt to stay in farming, but the low milk prices really sealed the deal, along with my father-in-law not getting any younger.

    We are so lucky to have good dairy products available at a very affordable price, but there IS a price to be paid by dairy farmers with the increasing cost of feed and upkeep.

    Please send our thoughts and prayers along to this farm family.


    • JPlovesCOTTON January 1, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

      Thanks Lana. We are indeed lucky! We have such abundant diverse food sources that we can be picky as consumers. I am so lucky. Reality is, it’s far tougher to produce the food than it is simply enjoy it. I appreciate the efforts of family’s like Diane’s, yours, etc.

    • Diane Heckman January 1, 2011 at 5:52 pm #

      Thank you for your thought and prayers . It helps to know that people care . Something has to be done to change the milk prices dairy farmers are getting. We are going to lose more and more farms . Til all that is left are Business Farms , not family farms.

  5. Mary Fleming January 1, 2011 at 7:59 pm #

    I understand. I have tried so hard to keep our cows and hope to return to dairying, but it looks more and more difficult. Our herd was combined with Dad’s when we were planning to rehab the barn. Prices have been below the average cost of production for way too many months, injuries, arthritis, hearing loss, depression, corn prices rising and causing feed costs to go up ( about 50% of the costs to dairy), weather with cold winters, hot summers, rainy growing season, then drought, …. I think it is time that USA today, or CBS did an expose on where the money goes for food, what we are loosing with the loss of the family dairy, and how the values of our rural families are behind why we were a great country!!!

    Money raised on a dairy is turned over LOCALLY seven times. Money spent at Walmart goes to Bentonville, and China. As dairy farmers we are being told we should expect to make money on the stock market instead of by producing the product – milk. There is something wrong when you can make more money selling a piece of paper than producing a good.
    And the media attention on things like organic vs corporate vs modern, vs family farms vs modern technologies is just allowing the inaccuracies and misunderstandings to grow while the public’s health suffers.
    We replaced milk with soda pop and “fruit juices” and we wonder why there is an obesity epidemic, osteoporosis rates rising, and poor nutition.
    Can you help us get the real messages to the public?
    Loving the beautiful Jersey cows,

    • JPlovesCOTTON January 3, 2011 at 6:01 pm #

      Thanks Mary for the comments. We will all keep pushing for people to hear what’s happening. By each of us just sending it along to our friends and asking them to do the same, we can make a difference. And we will find media who are willing to listen for the stories that need to be heard instead of simply the ones they want to tell.

  6. Mary January 1, 2011 at 8:17 pm #

    Another issue for those of us who farm to provide food, fiber, fuel, forestry products, flowers, medicines, cosmetics, and so very much more……….ARCANUM — A 16-year-old who was killed in a farm machinery accident on Wednesday has been identified as John Warner of Arcanum, according to the Darke County Sheriff’s office.
    The accident, which involved a manure spreader being used on a frozen corn field, occurred about 2:30 p.m. on property at 7664 Delisle-Fourman Road, the sheriff’s office said.
    A preliminary investigation suggests that Warner’s outer clothing became entangled in the power take-off shaft of a farm implement.
    Warner was pronounced dead at the scene. He was a student at Franklin Monroe High School.
    The incident is still under investigation.
    Family and friends of Warner gathered at the site Wednesday afternoon. Emergency crews from the Arcanum Fire Department, Arcanum Community Rescue, as well as Darke County Sheriff’s deputies, responded to the accident. A spokesperson for the family declined comment.


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