Dairy farms are a Minnesota staple; with ample farmland and hearty cattle, it’s estimated that fewer than 5% of dairy farms will close up shop in a typical year. Countless Minnesota families enjoy the luxury of fresh ice cream, frozen yogurt, and delectable cheeses throughout the year.
This past winter seeks to change this trend as a never-before-seen amount of snow was dumped on farms across the state.
The massive amounts of snow accumulated throughout February were enough to collapse more than 25 barns in the early days of March. Even with the twice annual gutter cleaning needed to keep your roof in good working condition, no roof was prepared for a winter of this size.
Instead of buckling down for the winter, some farmers threw in the towel and sold their stock within the first 12 hours, something most dairy farmers don’t do until retirement.
And dairy farmers have already been struggling to make it into retirement under an already struggling industry. It’s estimated that nearly 20% of seniors of retiring age will continue to work in America due to financial difficulties and other setbacks.
Of course, Minnesotans are used to winter storms, blustering winds, and anything else old man winter has to throw at them. It isn’t uncommon to see children walking down the street in bundles of clothes reminiscent of Ralphie’s younger brother in A Christmas Story. But in many parts of Minnesota haven’t seen devastation like this for more than 20 years.
In February alone, the Twin Cities experienced more than 39 inches of snow, making it one of the snowiest months on record.
Snowy conditions alone can cause cows to stop producing milk, let alone collapsed roofs and barnyard destruction. In some particularly harrowing cases, some cows may cease to eat under stress. This can cause illnesses to occur or even death in some herds.
But it isn’t just the cattle the farmers are worried about. Some farms have had to dump their milk down the drains in the wake of innavigable roads. Snow obstruction, felled trees, and accidents caused many shipment delays, resulting in countless gallons of milk to go to waste. Not even the 72% of diesel-powered trucks in the United States could make it past the mountains of snow. According to some reports, only 10% of the state’s milk actually made it to processing plants.
No farm management service is one-size-fits all, and every farm needs different care and maintenance. The overwhelming winter weather forced some struggling dairy farms to collapse under the pressure, both physically and financially. For many, this was the final straw in a struggling industry.
That means that countless families in the Twin Cities may have to cope with a dairy shortage in the coming months. The dairy industry has already witnessed a nation-wide decline in the last few years. This has been worsened by the ongoing trade war between the United States and its top two buyers, China and Mexico.
As the nation’s eighth-largest supplier of dairy, Minnesota is expected to recover. But after a hard winter, we may see more dairy farmers begin to prepare for retirement.
For now, Minnesotan families will have to rely on dairy substitutes like almond milk, soy milk, and gelato for a sweet treat.