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Today's word on journalism

March 17, 2009

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1863-2009

"Can Seattle's oldest newspaper be successfully transformed into a child of the information age? The Northwest is a land of big dreams. With the demise of the Soviet Union, one quipster noted that Puget Sound is now home to three empires still bent on global dominion: Microsoft, Amazon.com and Starbuck's. If the stars align properly and with a quality product, Seattle will show the way to a new model for journalism of the written word."

--Joel Connelly, columnist, in today's final print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Editorial Comment: And when the newspapers die. . . .

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Cache Valley dairy farmers see way of life slipping away

By Michelle Butler

February 4, 2009 | Many people are still in bed when Brandon Anderson wakes up and goes to work. His day begins at the crack of dawn and doesn't end until the cows are asleep.

Brandon is a dairy farmer in Cache Valley and works on the same farm where many generations of his family have worked. But the future of the Anderson farm, like many other small dairies, is uncertain.

Cache Valley has long been remembered for its rich agricultural heritage. Large contributors to that heritage have been the many dairies that have made Cache Valley their home. For many valley residents, they enjoy the agricultural feel the valley offers.

"I've always enjoyed how different Cache Valley is compared to Ogden or Salt Lake," said Zac Butler, a valley resident. "Having so many dairies here gives it an open feel and it's one that I've always liked."

Cache County is the fourth-highest agricultural producing county in Utah, and has always had strong agricultural roots. Utah State University used to be known as the Agricultural College of Utah and its dairy research program is ranked among the top in the nation.

But the trend in the last several years has been a decrease in dairies and that will ultimately affect what so many love about the valley.

"I don't think that people realize the impact that the dairies and farms have on us," said Laurel Evans, a valley resident. "Without them (the dairies) where would we get our food? Do we really want all of the farm land to be covered with buildings? Cache Valley just wouldn't be the same."

In 1997, Cache Valley had over 1,363 dairies but that number has shrunk to 1,194 in 2002 according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Many small farms have to sell for a variety of reasons, the main one being that the farmers are not making enough money.

One major problem facing many farmers is the rise in fuel costs. Many fuel companies are now charging the farmers surcharges to ship the fuel to them and this can add another $50 a month to the fuel bill, Anderson said.

"The farmer is the bottom of the totem pole of surcharges," Anderson said. "We're paying the higher fuel costs, but getting surcharges handed down to us. Who can I hand it to?"

Besides the rise in fuel, low milk prices are also taking a toll. 2004 was the best year for milk prices, said Jill Anderson, wife of Brandon Anderson.

Milk prices vary because of the supply and demand. When milk is selling high, the supply goes up and the demand goes down, leading to a decrease in prices, said Jill.

Since most dairy items are perishable, the market and the buyer decide what the cost of items should be, not the seller.

Another factor to hit farmers is that the minimum wage went up. The Andersons were already paying above minimum wage and the increase makes it hard. They want to pay their employees well, Jill explained, because the employees are dealing directly with the farms income-the cows.

With minimum wage going up and the inflation of fuel and other farm goods, like bailing twine and animal feed, farmers are paying more to run their farms, but the cost of their goods aren't rising to meet the inflated costs.

While most goods have increased more than 10-fold since the Great Depression, many agricultural products only cost a few dollars more today than they were 75 years ago.

For Brandon and his farm, he's not making enough money with the milk he sells, and his wife had to get a job in order to make ends meet. Milk prices have gone down so much; the Andersons are worried milk will reach the low market prices they saw in 2003: around $9.50 per hundred weight, a low not seen since the 1970s.

With all of the struggles keeping a dairy going, many have asked Anderson why he even tries. His reply: "All time best job that involves a family."

For the Andersons, both of whom were raised on farms, they want to raise their family on a farm.

To see her kids wanting to go down and feed the cows and work outdoors with their dad is much better than them wanting to watch TV or play video games, said Jill.

Both Jill and Brandon agree that they are not in it to make money.

"You come into it knowing you won't make a lot, and if you think otherwise, you're in it for the wrong reason," said Jill.

The Andersons said they do it because it's in their blood. For the Andersons, keeping their farm afloat has been hard and they've had to sacrifice in order to keep it going. But according to Brandon, he couldn't see himself doing anything else.

"Bottom line, I want my kids raised on a farm. They don't have to stay in the industry, but it will teach them to work hard," Anderson said.

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