Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Dairy Squeeze? Experts Say Small Farms Not Hurt

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Dairy Squeeze? Experts Say Small Farms Not Hurt

Article excerpt

In their attempts to discourage sales of BST, opponents paint a picture of a corporate behemoth steamrolling Bossie the Cow into the silo of history.

They have argued that Monsanto Co.'s drug would drive small farmers out of business in record numbers.

Dairy experts reject the idea.

"It's a scare tactic," said Milton C. Hallberg, professor of agricultural economics at Pennsylvania State University.

Quitting the dairy business "is a complicated matter that has to do with many other factors," said Frederick H. Buttel, professor of rural sociology at the University of Wisconsin. "BST has had very little effect."

So farms continue to die and merge, as they have done for decades.

Last year, the nation had 140,090 dairy operations, down from 3.65 million in 1950, according to federal statistics that include every farm that has a dairy cow. The number of commercial dairies is even lower.

Wisconsin's dairy operations dropped to 28,000 last year from 143,000 in 1950.

Wisconsin remains a hotbed of BST opposition. It has more dairy farms than any other state - about 20 percent of the nation's total - and higher percentages of small and medium-sized farms.

Few Wisconsin farmers use BST compared to the national average.

Since BST reached the market in early 1994, Wisconsin's dairy operations have declined by 6.7 percent, about half the rate of decline in the nation as a whole.

There's a strong emphasis on family farming in Wisconsin, which explains the BST resistance and suggests why farmers may not quit so fast.

"Family farming is a lifestyle as well as a business," said Bradford L. Barham, assistant professor of agricultural economics at the University of Wisconsin, who has studied farmers' responses to BST.

That lifestyle includes the attitude that a farmer doesn't need to squeeze every penny of profit and ounce of milk from his cows. …

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