Federal aid improving “safety net” for Midwestern dairy farmers

By Adam Belz, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Business News

President Donald Trump trails in the polls in Wisconsin and Minnesota, but he is banking on the support of one group whose fortunes have improved somewhat in the past year: dairy farmers.

Thanks to reinforcements to the federal dairy safety net and a generous coronavirus-relief package, fewer dairy farmers are going out of business and their outlook has brightened despite the pandemic.

"People's morale has definitely lifted," said Shelly DePestel, one of the owners of the Lewiston Dairy in southeast Minnesota, one of the state's largest. "I do think a lot of dairy farmers support Trump, from my limited communication."

An irony of this new optimism in dairy is that the politician most responsible for the legislation that caused it is U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat, the chairman of the House Agricultural Committee.

"Collin Peterson is a champion to dairy," DePestel said. "It's not about a party thing. It's about who's helping us, who's looking out for us, who's got our interests at heart."

Peterson - who faces his own re-election bid in November against Republican Michelle Fischbach, a former lieutenant governor and Minnesota Senate president - was honored Friday in Perham, Minn., by the Minnesota Milk Producers Association with the legislator of the year award for his work on the coronavirus relief package among other things.


Those who milk cows for a living, especially on the traditional family scale of a couple hundred head or less, have been battered for the past five years. While the entire farm economy has struggled, dairy seemed to be in terminal decline.

Facing a wave of consolidation, oversupply, trade wars and shifting consumer demand, 1 in 10 dairies in Minnesota and Wisconsin closed in 2019. Minnesota lost 268 dairy farms in 2019; Wisconsin, 818.

Dairies are still going out of business in 2020, but at less than half the pace.

Trump was carried to the White House by rural voters and has sought to ally himself with farmers.


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