Fourth-generation dairy farmer warns of economic woes, climate change regulations could end family farms

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A fourth-generation dairy farmer has warned that climate change regulations and a series of economic problems could signal the end of her family’s way of life after nearly a century.

“We’ve been under attack in the dairy industry for quite some time now,” Stephanie Nash told Fox News. “Instead of educating people through the farmer, we educate them through people who have never farmed and we kill our family farmers.”

Rising costs, labor and supply shortages, and lack of support – in addition to climate change and conservation regulations – are all major hurdles threatening the Nash family, who has worked in dairy farming for 92 years.

Stephanie, 28, and her father, Steven Nash, moved their nearly 100-year-old dairy farm from the San Joaquin Valley in California to Tennessee in 2014 to escape Golden State’s strict farm regulations and the high cost of doing business.

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“They regulate us with every step we take,” recalls Stéphanie of their stay in California. “We are constantly watched, constantly manipulated and told what to do, and the farmers, especially my dad’s age and up, they don’t want to be told how to farm.”

“Water rights, milk prices, feed prices, climate change regulations… we had to fight with Los Angeles and San Francisco over every issue.,“she added.

Her father agreed, saying the state had taken “an adversarial approach” when it came to dealing with farmers.

“They weren’t worried about the farmers there,” Steven, 61, told Fox News.

California is the largest agricultural state in the United States, producing about 40% of the country’s vegetables, fruits and nuts, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. It is also the largest producer of dairy products and wine. Prone to drought, the state has implemented state law limiting farmers’ access to water.

While the move to Tennessee saved the family from bankruptcy, the Nashes are concerned about some rhetoric and bills coming from Washington, DC, regarding agriculture.

“They’re making all these bills and regulations, and the townspeople believe them instead of believing in your farmers putting food on the table for you,” said Stephanie, who is also a singer-songwriter. and agricultural. activist.

She hopes her advocacy, Nash Creamery and their new cheese factory will be enough to keep the family business afloat.

“This is what everyone is praying for,” Stephanie told Fox News. “We pray for the rain, we pray for fair prices and we pray for regulations that will not kill our industry.”

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Steven’s grandfather, Wallace Nash, began milking cows in central California in 1929. A decade later, Steven’s father, Howard, took over the farm and turned the operation from 30 to 200 cows.

In 1980, Howard fell ill and Steven, 20, stepped in and took over the day-to-day operations of the farm. Over the next 40 years, the herd grew from 200 to over 1,200 cows.

“Dairy products are just something I’ve always loved,” Steven told Fox News. “I really like seeing a cow that is well behaved… that walks smoothly, has a nice udder and produces a lot of milk. It is my satisfaction.

The Nashes milk their cows twice a day, grow their own fodder, and recently opened a dairy and cheese factory to help cover costs.

In February, the USDA forecast a loss of $ 1,840 in median farm household income in 2020. On average, nearly 90% of a family farm’s income is provided by some other source of income or employment.

Small dairy farms are among the least sustainable types of farms today as they grapple with declining demand for cow’s milk and the consolidation of their industry resulting in much larger but fewer farms. , according to the USDA. Since 2003, the United States has lost more than half of its licensed dairy farms, to fewer than 32,000 farms.

“The latest farm bill, dairy policy, was developed without much input from farmers,” Steven said of the 2018 Farm Improvement Act.

“They changed our pricing mechanism, and what has been done is to take almost $ 1 billion out of the dairy industry, the agriculture industry, my segment, and shifted it to processors and to other people in the industry before it reaches the grocery store, ”he continued.

At the request of dairy processors, the 2018 Farm Bill amended an industrial formula that determines the price of fluid milk under the Federal Milk Marketing Ordinance system.

“The change contributed to substantial market volatility last year and resulted in estimated losses of $ 750 million for farmers compared to the previous Class I formula,” the National Federation of Milk Producers said in an October press release. “Without a solution, dairy farmers will permanently bear unfair and unnecessary price risk to processors during times of unusual market volatility.”

Steven told Fox News: “It’s a lot of money to lose. It’s been very difficult for a lot of people, including me.”

As a result of this change in formula, price increases in grocery stores do not mean the farmer sees an increase on their side. Additionally, farmers face rising gas and energy costs, labor shortages, high feed expenses and supply chain issues.

“We are a capital intensive company,” said Steven. “We live and die from food costs. “

He said these account for 55% of the farm’s expenses.

“We’re not like other businesses where we can just cut down,” he said. “Cows need to be fed every day, don’t they? “

He added that labor shortages and supply chain delays were also critical issues.

“We are time sensitive,” he said. “We can miss our window of opportunity just because of a bearing or a tire.”

The National Dairy Farmers Federation estimated that transportation disruptions cost the U.S. dairy industry nearly $ 1 billion in the first half of the year due to rising shipping costs and inventories, loss of export volume and deterioration in prices.

Stephanie often posts on TikTok and YouTube to voice her concerns about struggling farmers and to educate people on how certain bills are affecting the farming industry.

Nash Family Creamery

“You look at the big seed companies, you look at the ethanol plants, you look at all these big investors, again, coming back to the politicians, what are they investing in? ” she said. “Why are they putting all this funding in certain areas? Because they’re going to make more money.”

“The farmer is going to be dead, and the family farms are going to disappear, and they are going to continue to get rich from things like plants and climate change,” continued Stéphanie.

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Stephanie often warns her supporters of political threats to the agriculture industry, such as President Biden’s 30 by 30 Plan, a federal initiative to conserve 30% of the country’s land and water by 2030.

Likewise, the Departments of Home, Agriculture, and Commerce as well as the White House Council on Environmental Quality released Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful, a preliminary report on conservation. He states that “Federal agencies can and should advance conservation by supporting programs that encourage voluntary conservation efforts and provide new sources of income for American farmers, ranchers and forest stewards.”

Stephanie told Fox News, “There’s a lot of money in Washington, DC, and I’m really afraid the money will be used to persuade the USDA people to turn to plants, to fight the climate change, fund all of those other things. … So that the farming systems of corporations and large investors will continue to cultivate and have access to our prices in grocery stores. “

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Steven, who hopes to one day pass the farm on to his daughter, said Nash Farms has received help from the federal government to address coronavirus issues.

“Although we use them, we don’t like them,” he said of farmer assistance programs. “I want a fair price that represents the work we do.”

“We have a great product,” continued Steven. “Why does the government have to support us because we can’t do it on our own? This is the fundamental problem.”

Dairy farmers have received more than $ 3 billion, or about $ 1 in $ 8, of the $ 24.4 billion paid to farmers and ranchers since COVID-19 payments began in May 2020, according to USDA .

“We’re in a place where we can go both ways,” Steven said of his farm’s financial stability. “I’ve been there several times before so we’ll have to see what the next few months bring.”

Teny Sahakian is an associate producer / writer for Fox News. You can reach her at [email protected]


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