Every June for the last 83 years, Americans have celebrated dairy farmers. A tradition that began as a way to encourage consumption of milk during peak production season has since become an annual celebration of the hard work dairy farm families perform every day. In Wisconsin, June Dairy Month is a big deal. Each year dozens of Wisconsin dairy farms open their gates to the public for breakfast on the farm. The family-friendly events draw crowds that rival county fairs and feature breakfast staples like pancakes and sausage as well as beloved dairy treats like drinkable yogurt, cheese curds, and frozen custard. It’s a chance for consumers to learn where their food comes from and to celebrate the farmers who produce it.
If you have ever attended the June Dairy Month festivities, you’ve probably heard that we should celebrate dairy farmers all year long. How, you might ask? By purchasing more milk and ice cream and springing for that extra cheese on our pizza. Consuming dairy products helps ensure that dairy farmers have a strong domestic market for their milk, and that is a big part of what keeps America’s dairyland going. But with an average of two dairy farm closures each day in Wisconsin, clearly there is more we should do to support our farmers.
At the time of the first National Dairy Month, Wisconsin had over 100,000 dairy farms. Today, we have fewer than 8,000. A growing number of mega dairies continue to oversupply the market, drive down prices, and force smaller operations out of business. Those that remain are under constant economic pressure to expand and produce more milk just to stay afloat. This trend toward fewer and larger farms means fewer independent businesses contributing to their rural economies, and it may also threaten the future of the iconic June Dairy Month breakfast on the farm. In 2019, some events were nearly cancelled due to the limited availability of hosts.
So how do we ensure a successful future for family dairy farmers and keep the June Dairy Month celebration alive? The answer is quite simple: pay family farmers a fair price. If we want vibrant rural communities, thriving small businesses, a healthy landscape, and a stable food system, we must pay farmers for the essential contributions they make to society. “Get big or get out” farm policies do not represent those values; they favor overproduction, exports, and big business over farmers and communities. The steady loss of family farms and the deterioration of rural America is not inevitable – it is a policy choice. We could make a different one.
So yes, enjoy your cheese curds and ice cream and continue eating nutritious dairy products every day. But let’s not forget what gives dairy farmers a reason to celebrate: a fair price for their product and the comfort of knowing they will still be around next June.