The mental health of dairy farmers in Wisconsin now a political issue

Wisconsin’s dairy crisis causing high suicide rates amongst farmers

Wisconsin is getting increasingly concerned for its reputation as “America’s Dairyland” as its family farmers continue to disappear. The state lost 638 dairy farms last year according to Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). Its figures show that as of October 2019 more than half of Wisconsin’s 15,904 farms in 2004 have disappeared with only 7,476 remaining. These figures have been in the public domain for some time now, but the pressure on the local dairy industry continues to increase. 

Local Democrat politicians such as Senator Tammy Baldwin are trying to put part of the blame on President Donald Trump’s trade wars.

“Wisconsin is America’s dairyland and we’ve seen horrible things happening because of the trade war with China,” Baldwin told 27 News.

In reality, Wisconsin has been losing dairy farms in a sustained fashion since 2004.

Republicans in Congress believe that the proposed new trade United-States-Mexico-Canada Agreement will ease the pressure by increasing access to other markets.

As reported in Yahoo Finance the state is leading the nation in farm bankruptcies and there has been a surge in farmer suicide rates.

“You look at the weather, you look at the crops you can’t get off the field, you look at the bills you can’t pay,” Patty Edelburg, vice president of the National Farmers Union, told Yahoo Finance. “Bankruptcies are up. Wisconsin is attributed as the No. 1 bankruptcy in the nation right now when it comes to dairy farmers. That number is up, I think, 24% from last year already. We’re losing two farms a day.”

Human Toll on farmers

The human toll is very real. The mental health of farmers has even become a political issue with decisions on how to allocate limited financial resources becoming politically controversial. A 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control stated that farmers were committing suicide at twice the rate of veterans. USDA farm agency has even had to train its farm loan officers in how to look for warning signs for potential suicide.

Wisconsin’s dairy industry is struggling. The DATCP recently attacked the plant-based industry and Miyoko’s Creamery in particular. It told retail food establishments to remove vegan butter from its shelves until they had been re-labelled to show that they were an imitation. Products not made from milk or cream could not be sold as “butter”.

Miyoko’s Creamery has initiated a programme in California, where dairy farmers are also struggling, to help a dairy farm transition to plant-based agriculture.

With the global vegan trend away from dairy and towards plant-based alternatives, Wisconsin is looking at a bleak future. Its agricultural core activity may have to re-invent itself.

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Jacobus Lavooij

Jacobus is an experienced editor and writer whose interest vegan issues began with understanding the environmental consequences of the food industry. He loves vegan food and is a passionate communicator of its benefits. He is a Dutch national and lives in Copenhagen, Denmark. Contact: jacobus@vegansbethechange.com
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