Wisconsin’s Dairyland Disaster

forsaleBy:  Joel Greeno, farmer and president of Family Farm Defenders

CapTimes (Madison, WI), 5/23/15

Last month the Agricultural Census made it official: Wisconsin now has less than 10,000 dairy farmers. The exodus of dairy farmers continues unabated as the price paid to dairy farmers drops — to about $15 a hundredweight or $1.50 a gallon, a near record low. Dairy farmers are now being paid 40 percent less for their milk than a year ago.
Deans, one of the largest and most powerful milk processors in the U.S., even told their buyers in a recent memo that despite paying farmers less, the retail price for milk in stores would not change for consumers.
Imagine losing 40 percent of your income while the bills continue to pile up for land, seeds, fertilizers, utilities, machinery and fuel? I am one of the thousands of dairy farmers who no longer milk cows. In late 2013, I sold my dairy cows. It was not an easy decision. But the ups and downs of dairy prices just made it too hard to continue. It makes me angry that nothing is being done to fix this “pricing” problem that has been the scourge of the dairy industry for three decades. Citizens need to act now if we want to have any dairy farmers left in Wisconsin in the next decade.
We need solutions, not more rhetoric. Here are some things we need to do to save those dairy farmers who are left:
1. Get dairy out of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Each day an elite group of commodity traders gathers at the CME to swap cheddar cheese. Very little cheddar cheese is actually sold, but within seconds this “thin” market reverberates around the globe, affecting farm gate prices and grocery bills for billions of people. Among these bad actors are many of the world’s largest food giants and even corrupt farmer co-ops. For instance, in 2008 the Commodity Futures Trading Commission found Dairy Farmers of America guilty of rigging milk prices at the CME and levied an unprecedented $12 million fine. But this type of manipulative speculation continues today. The U.S. Justice Department needs to stop this criminal activity once and for all and guarantee that farmers get a fair price for their milk from a truly competitive market.
2. Stop fast track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Congress is now considering giving President Obama fast track authority to approve another round of trade deals that would be disastrous for farmers, workers and consumers. Among the worst of these trade deals is the TPP, which would open U.S. floodgates to unsafe milk powder imports, driving down domestic prices even further. Of course, if you are a giant food processor and there is no COOL (country of origin labeling) required for dairy products, you could care less about buying fresh milk from U.S. farmers when you can use imported milk protein concentrate instead. One of the major players now lobbying U.S. politicians to railroad through fast track and the TPP is Fonterra of New Zealand, which controls about 30 percent of the world’s dairy trade. Congress needs to say no to fast track and impose a moratorium on more bad trade deals. Didn’t we learn our lesson from NAFTA?
3. Change how dairy farmers are paid. Imagine working in a business where you don’t know your wage until one month after you finished a job. The wage could be $15 an hour or it could be the minimum wage. It all depends on what the company wants to pay you. In essence this is how dairy farmers are paid. It is an archaic system that is even a mystery to most dairy farmers. We need a 21st century pricing structure so farmers actually know the price they will receive for their milk the day it leaves the farm. The price should reflect the cost of production and fair wages for dairy farmers — in other words a living wage — just like what other workers in our food system are now demanding. The U.S. already imports over 20 percent of our food. Can we really afford to continue to bankrupt our family farmers and drive them and their families off the land and out of our already struggling rural communities?
Unless we take action, Wisconsin will no longer be able to call itself “America’s Dairyland.” Wisconsin will be stuck with some other less flattering nickname — like the Frac Sand Mining Playground of the U.S. or the Midwest’s Largest Manure-Tainted Water Park.
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Stop Fast Track! Farmers and Allies Speak Out at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) to Demand Fair Trade, Not Forced Trade

chicagowebFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 4/2/15:

Contact: John E. Peck, Executive Director, Family Farm Defenders, (608) 260-0900

Chicago, Illinois – In conjunction with a series of actions around the world against unfair trade (https://www.globaltradeday.org/) and to mark La Via Campesina’s International Day of Peasant Struggle (http://viacampesina.org/), farmers and their allies will be holding a speak out at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) – 141 W. Jackson – at noon on Friday April 17th to expose the price fixing by commodity speculators that profit from the globalization of hunger, poverty, oppression, and pollution. This educational leaflet will urge passerbys to contact Congress to oppose Fast Track and to also apply pressure on the Dept. of Justice to enforce anti-trust laws at the world’s largest private trading platform where markets are routinely rigged to the detriment of farmers and consumers alike.

The evening before the CME speak out – Thurs. April 16th at 6:00 pm at the Jane Addams Hull House Museum (800 S. Halsted in Chicago) – family farmers from across the Midwest will be joining indigenous activists, consumer advocates, and other key allies for a Community Forum on Food Sovereignty. Panelists include: John Ikerd, agricultural economist and sustainable agriculture advocate (MO); Ben Burkett, farmer with the Southern Federation of Cooperatives (MS); Joel Greeno, farmer with Family Farm Defenders (WI); Lisa Griffith of the National Family Farm Coalition (MO); Nikos Pastos, activist with the Alaska Big Village Network (AK); John E. Peck with Family Farm Defenders (WI); Jessica Fujan with Food and Water Watch (IL), Seva Gandhi of the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network (IL), Orrin Williams of the Center for Urban Transformation (IL); as well as representatives from the Friends of the MST, the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil.

For more info on the food sovereignty forum, visit Facebook:


From its humble beginning in 1898 as the non-profit Chicago Butter and Egg Board, the CME has since grown into the world’s largest private trading clearinghouse. Each day an elite group of commodity traders gathers at the CME to swap such products as natural gas, carbon credits, soybeans, cheddar cheese, fertilizer, and feather meal (ground up dead chickens and chicken manure used to feed livestock). Within seconds this “thin” market reverberates around the globe, affecting farm gate prices and grocery bills for billions of people. In 2002 the CME began issuing its own stock, and in 2007 acquired the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) for $8 billion as one of its designated contract markets (DCMs). In 2008 the CME Group bought out another rival, the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) for $8.9 billion, and in 2009 also acquired the Dow Jones Indexes. At the close of 2014 the CME reported handling over 15 million contracts per day and had paid out over $1.3 billion in dividends to its shareholders.

While some human shouting still occurs in the “pit,” over 70% of CME trading now happens quietly behind the scenes through its Globex electronic platform. The majority of this trading is now also done by speculators, who have no tangible interest in the commodities they buy and sell. CME remains the most profitable business in Chicago, yet it insists upon millions in tax breaks each year from the State of Illinois in order to keep it from relocating. The revolving door cadre of CME executives are also among the wealthiest people in the country. The U.S. Dept. of Justice (DoJ) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) supposedly watchdog the CME but seldom take action against criminal activity. Among these bad actors are many of the world’s largest food giants and even corrupt farmer co-ops. For instance, in 2008 the CFTC found Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) guilty of rigging milk prices through dairy trading at the CME and levied an unprecedented $12 million fine. In late March 2015 the CFTC also charged Kraft Foods with rigging global wheat prices at the CME.

“The real solution to feeding the world, cooling the planet, and sharing prosperity is found in fair trade, sustainable agriculture, and democratic sovereignty – that is the message behind La Via Campesina’s International Peasants Day,” noted John E. Peck, executive director of Family Farm Defenders. “We are calling upon our elected officials in Washington DC to reject Fast Track and other forced trade deals that are now being railroaded through Congress. We also insist that speculators obey the law and that the Dept. of Justice bring an end to the illegal racketeering now underway at the CME so that consumers, workers, and farmers benefit from agriculture – not just agribusiness executives and corporate shareholders.”

You can help spread the word about the Stop Fast Track speak out at the CME through sharing our Facebook event:


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John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize Award Dinner & Ceremony! Sat. March 14th 5-9 pm UW-Madison Pyle Center


Family Farm Defenders is pleased to announce the two winners of this year’s John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize.  They are Carsten Thomas from Moorhead, MN and Emmet Fisher and Cella Langer from Mt. Horeb, WI.  Carsten operates a diverse organic farm in the Red River Valley, honoring Native food heritage, and also offers many hands-on environmental education programs.  Cella and Emmet own Oxheart Farm producing food for farmers markets and a community supported agriculture (CSA) program.  Cella & Emmet also manage the Farley Center’s Farm Incubator and Land Link program outside Verona, WI.  Each prize winner will be receiving a $2000 cash prize at the award dinner

With Keynote Speaker: Marty Strange,co-founder of the Center for  Rural Affairs and author of Family Farming: a New Economic Vision

Introduced by UW-Madison Prof. Jack Kloppenburg, coordinator of the Opne Source Seed Initiative (OSSI)

Sat. March 14th 5:00 – 9:00 pm

UW-Madison’s Pyle Center

(702 Langdon St., Madison WI)

Among the current sponsors of this year’s John Kinsman prize which FFD is especially proud to recognize are:  Jean Kinsman, Food and Water Watch, Hiroshi and Arlene Kanno, Willy St. Co-op, John Adamowski, Cornucopia Institute, Jim and Rebecca Goodman (Northwood Farms), Midwest Environmental Advocates, John and Mary Ann Kinsman, Viroqua Food Co-op, Tony Schultz and Kat Becker (Stoney Acres Farm), Farley Center for Peace Justice and Sustainability, M. Grace Grzanek, Pete Hardin (the Milkweed), Krueger Printing, and Bill Anderson (Creme de la Coulee).

Preceded from 12:00 Noon – 4:00 pm by the

Family Farm Defenders Annual Meeting

With updates on such issues as the dairy crisis, frack

sand mining, climate justice, genetically modified

organisms, and factory farm struggles, as well as board

elections. The public is most welcome to attend!

Award Dinner tickets are $50 per person

($35 for low income or student)

You can purchase your ticket online here JK Prize Dinner Tickets!

For more info, contact FFD: tel. 608-260-0900 email: familyfarmdefenders@yahoo.com

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Fall 2014 Issue of the Defender Newsletter is now Available!

The latest issue of the Defender newsletter has been published with great articles on this year’s Food Sovereignty Prize event in Des Moines, the Loss of African American Farmers, Oregon’s Right to Farm Law, the Corporate Takeover of Grocery Stores, Wisconsin’s Failure to Enforce Factory Farm Rules, the recent Climate Justice march in NYC, and much more!

You can find an electronic version here:   Defender Newsletter Fall 2014

But if you would like to join FFD as a member you can also receive a paper copy of the Defender in the mail to share with neighbors and friends!  Please support our work with an end of the year tax deductible donation – we depend upon YOU to sustain our grassroots work.  Best wishes and happy holidays!

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Citizens shouldn’t have to force DNR to enforce water laws

Manure-laden in Kewaunee County, WisconsinBy: Jim Goodman, Wonewoc, WI dairy farmer and FFD board member

Captimes (Madison, WI), 11/13/14

Wisconsin has over 220 dairy concentrated animal feeding operations, CAFOs, and according to the Department of Natural Resources there are about 30 more applications pending. CAFOs are required to obtain a Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit every five years once they reach the level of 1,000 “animal units,” or about 700 dairy cows.
Kewaunee County, near Green Bay, has 14 permitted CAFOs, giving it one of the highest livestock densities in the state.
In March 2012, Kinnard Farms, in Lincoln township in Kewaunee County, applied for a reissuance of its WPDES permit and proposed to construct new facilities that would allow it to more than double its herd size to 6,200 cattle. This number of cattle would produce over 70 million gallons of manure per year without, according to Kinnard Farms, any pollution of ground or surface water.
Impacts on the community such as noise, odor and dust damage to public highways do not need to be considered in the permitting process.
WPDES permits are supposed to protect the public. I would assume they are in keeping with the mission of the DNR to protect and enhance our natural resources, including our air, land and water; wildlife, fish and forests and the ecosystems that sustain life.
But a permit is only as good as the legal enforcement. Kinnard Farms had a history of permit violations: three notices of noncompliance for land-spreading violations, as well as a 2010 notice of violation for its overflowing manure lagoon. Still, the DNR issued the permit for Kinnard’s expansion based on incomplete information as to how Kinnard Farms planned to clean up its act.
In October 2012 neighbors of Kinnard Farms filed a petition requesting the DNR to review the permit, challenging the DNR’s issuance of a permit before the expansion plans were completed, noting that there was no limit placed on the number of cows at the dairy and no provision stipulating monitoring wells. The permit could not ensure that storage facilities and land-spreading would not result in runoff events that would pollute surface and ground water.
Kimberlee Wright, spokeswoman for Midwest Environmental Advocates, noted that while the DNR has “some very good men and women who care about Wisconsin’s water, they are very understaffed and they are under horrible political pressure to issue permits.” She also noted that there was only one person in the state dealing with CAFO permits and no staff to monitor permitted facilities.
The petitioners were asking only that laws already on the books be enforced. Midwest Environmental Advocates attorney Sarah Williams stated that “the petitioners are not trying to get rid of CAFOs, they’re not trying to stop this industrial dairy from expanding, what they want is a permit that protects their water and health.”
During the February case hearing, public testimony noted that 50 percent of the private wells tested in Lincoln township, and 30 percent of the private wells tested in Kewaunee County, were contaminated with E. coli and other contaminants. Residents cannot use water from their wells for drinking, cooking or bathing.
In his Oct. 29 decision, Judge Jefferey Boldt ordered Kinnard Farms to begin groundwater monitoring for pollutants at the building site. He ordered no less than six monitoring wells, two of which must monitor off-site land-spreading of manure. It was also ordered that a maximum number of animal units at the facility be noted on the permit.
The DNR was ordered to modify the Kinnard Farms permit to limit discharge of manure or wastewater pollutants to navigable waters.
If, as spokesman Lee Kinnard stated, Kinnard Farms is “very committed to being responsible stewards of those resources” and “passionate about being responsible farmers,” why didn’t they put the petitioners’ requests in place two years ago?
Why didn’t the DNR undertake a more thorough permitting process initially? Government agencies should not have to be forced by citizens to enforce the law.
In a state where “moving forward” means getting bigger, the environment and public health always seem to trumped by someone needing to increase their profits. We are told that economic survival depends on growth, no matter what business you are in. Personally, I don’t agree.
There is something seriously wrong with society if profit for a few is put ahead of public health.
And when the government refuses to enforce laws protecting the public, then there is something seriously wrong with the government.
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