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
"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
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
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
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
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,"
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.