Matt Moreland has taken what little hope he had left in dairy farming and put it behind him.
Moreland, who comes from three generations of dairy farmers, thought that after graduating from college he would follow that path as well.
But with the decline of milk prices and uncertainty of the industry’s future, he says it didn’t take long for him to come up with other ways to pay the bills.
In 2013, he started a pick-your-own pumpkin patch on his property in Missouri. Eventually, his part-time gig evolved into Red Barn Ranch, a family-friendly attraction that offers farm activities, animals, a space for events and an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Three years later, when Moreland’s family sold their cows and made an exit from the dairy industry, he invested the majority of his energy in what he once considered a side project.
“It’s growing exponentially,” he says. “Red Barn Ranch will take over what I need to make a living solely on what I estimate in the next three to five years.”
American dairy farmers, like Moreland, have been forced to decide how they will cope with a fragile dairy economy.
Statistics from Dairy Farmers of America show net milk sales declined by $1.1 billion last year. The USDA also found drinking milk isn’t as popular in America as it used to be. In 1975, the agency reported Americans consumed 247 pounds of dairy milk per capita in comparison to 146 pounds in 2018.
One recent report has also pointed to the growing potential of milk-alternatives that pose a threat to dairy. It found the US non-dairy milk market grew by 50 percent in 2018 and projects that the global non-dairy market will reach revenues of more than $38 billion by 2024. These alternative beverages have played a small role in revenue loss.
Industry experts say surplus milk powder produced in Europe has been a primary factor in low milk prices in recent years.
Jim Briggs, a Wisconsin dairy farmer, believes the problem with the US dairy economy is that its supply is outpacing demand. He believes the country needs to learn how to balance supply for a profitable price.
“There’s farms going out around here just left and right,” he says.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, the state has had 3,819 dairy farms drop off since September 2012.
On his own farm, Briggs says he’s had to make a number of tough decisions over the years to keep his own business up and running.
“You just say ‘I’ll fix this next month, I’ll buy this piece of equipment next month, I’ll upgrade this next year,’ but then next year’s not any better or you’re worse off because you’ve put all this stuff off,” he says “It’s starting to catch up.”
However, he’s hopeful the state of the industry will eventually improve so he can keep the tradition of dairy farming in his family.
Moreland, on the other hand, isn’t as optimistic and feels his struggles in the industry are not unique.
“Talking with other dairy farmers still in the business it would seem they are running out of positive things to say,” he says. “Prices just don’t seem to be coming up and programs offering aid just aren’t enough.”
And while part of his salary still comes from feeding beef cattle, baling hay, planting and hauling grain on his family farm, Moreland says Red Barn Ranch has allowed him to move past hard times.
“The only thing that made any money was Red Barn Ranch,” he says. “It is solely responsible for saving the house my children grew up in and the farm that I have.”