(After reading this article and was up well into the night writing this letter. I want to share it with you)
Dear Mr. John Van Nortwick
I want to congratulate you on your publisher perspective in your October 2009 issue of Agribusiness Dairyman, titled “Say No to a Bailout; Say No to Welfare; Say No to Your Processor.
In reading your perspective it is exactly what I had asked myself when my co-op had recently asked for more milk from us. I immediately asked, “Are you going to pay for it”? There response is that they have to look for the future needs of the co-op….”your co-op”! We MUST keep the contracts! We MUST stay competitive. I thought to myself…”what about me? What about MY business? What about what I have already lost?”….do they care?
In reading your perspective it was like seeing my thoughts, in print. Then it hit me! Before my re-location to Central California, I had worked nearly 5 years for Family Court Services of San Bernardino County Court of California. Everyday I dealt with battered spouses and victims of abuse.
Upon reading your perspective I realized that we dairy farmers are very much like the battered spouses I had worked with daily. (Let me be clear, I am downplaying spousal abuse by any means, I am only using it as an analogy and how similar the victim/abuser traits are, no matter what type of abuse it is).
We, as dairy farmers work hard. We take on all risks. We pay for our commodities to be delivered accept the ups and downs of those markets (if the companies have an increase of expense, we pay a “surcharge”). We then pay for the hauling of our product to processing. What happens if the truck transporting has an accident, spills the milk…well it’s our expense…we pay. We are accessed marketing fees, industry fees, etc….it is because it is “OUR” product. Retail profits, though, are retail profits. We are told “we need to stay competitive”. Yet the major profits of our product are seen at a processor and retail level…with no credit to us. As abusers they convince the battered that “it is your duty, it is good for the family, you can’t make it without me”, but when things go wrong and the abuser is challenged the victim hears that “it is all YOUR fault, you are worthless, YOU created this problem…YOU are now going to have to deal with it?”
When we take these issues to our co-ops and industry reps we are told…”dairy farmers, when it’s good they get greedy….want to make the big bucks THIS is what is causing over production”! We hear this with every cycle and we, as a battered spouse, beaten down again…we BELIEVE what they tell us…”oh those dairymen…they can get together on anything…they are their worst enemy” (it is exactly what they want; abusers never want the battered to have alliances).
They have gained so much control over the producer that they have made us believe we have no options. They make us feel that we need THEM…with out them we are nothing….we have been knocked down, as a battered spouse to believe, we are NOTHING without them.
They are smart and calculated as most abusers are…they play on our weaknesses. Those weaknesses are our obligation to our animals and humanity and tradition. The dairy farmers I know feel that it is a sin to throw good milk away. The dairy farmers I know will not compromise the health of their animal for profit. The co-ops know a dairy farmers conviction. They also know that it is an emotional career and that we will suffer just so that we can keep doing what we love to do. When everything escalates and we are pushed to far and the shortages begin, as an abuser, they realize that they do need us again. They then begin to build us back up. They give us misconceptions of healthy contracts, increased consumptions, they give up hope that they have learned from this damaging cycle and it will NEVER happen again…they LOVE us again and we reap rewards…enough, hopefully, to dig us out of the previous hole.
I ask repeatedly…why is our price discovery based on the CME, it is so thinly traded? Why don’t we have an auditing function for cold storage reporting? Aren’t they the same people purchasing on the CME? Why are we importing MPC’s without tariffs? Are MPC’s safe? REALLY? All of these questions are answered by my co-op and industry reps with an attitude of being “trivial” that those issues won’t solve much. That is not the real problem, oversupply is your problem. That leads me to ask “the big” question. With the lack of transparency and accountability from the markets purchasing our product how do we really know? I am usually given the impression that asking that they think that I am delusional. Yet another trait of an abuser, they make you feel like YOU are crazy you do not really understand.
Is transparency too much to ask? Is what I am asking out of the question? Yet all I get is a dance….no REAL answers! They don’t care about the producers…why should they when there are retailers and processors making record profits even during these terrible economic times?
It all comes down to a National Supply Management program….(many say…I don’t want those controls) My answer for that is….most battered spouses don’t even realize they are battered and controlled…that is how the abusers succeed for as long as they do….it is a pattern of devaluation of who we are and the product we produce.
A National Supply Management would “FREE” us…yes…we would be in control. We could stand up and do what we are meant to do…dairy…make milk. We would be in control of a fair wage for our product. We can decide to take risks of expansions and growth without it being a “gamble”.
Nothing is perfect and we will have to deal with ups and downs but we can at least we could be in charge of the peaks and valleys that is natural for all businesses. We can stop the killing of animals to “balance” supply and we can stop the devastation of generations due to untimely departures of dairy businesses that could not longer fight the “powers” that be. We can be grateful that we still have your dairy this time around. We can turn the cheek and not come to realize the truth of our failed system, but in doing so; we will just sit and wait for the next down cycle to happen again. Will you be able to survive the next round? Will you have the energy for the fight?
Barbara Borges Martin
Tony Martin Dairy