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Utah dairy farmers battle big profit losses

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WEBER COUNTY -- Utah farmers did a little better last year than in the previous few years, with the exception of dairy farmers. Many of them are still struggling, and some have even gone out of business.

The costs of operating a dairy farm have skyrocketed -- in some cases almost doubled -- in the past few years.

Weber County farmer Scott Wayment had to borrow money last year just to keep his Scotsdale Dairy Farm in business. Wayment has been a dairy farmer his entire life. It's always been a challenge, but in the past few years it's been downright difficult.

In the last two years, the equity that has been accumulated over lifetimes, generations, has been lost in the dairy industry.

–Mark Gibbons

"I don't think any of us are in the business thinking we are going to get rich, but we'd sure not like to have to borrow money just to operate on," he said.

Wayment borrowed $100,000 last year to pay for the increased prices of fuel, corn and hay. Other Utah farmers like him were forced out of business.

"We've lost a lot of them and there are a lot of them that are on the edge," Wayment said.

It's an issue being talked about at the Utah Farmers Union convention this week.

"It's real hard to stay in business," said union president Kent Bushman. "You can only borrow so much money."

Mark Gibbons, president of the Dairy Producers of Utah, echoed that sentiment.

"In the last two years, the equity that has been accumulated over lifetimes, generations, has been lost in the dairy industry," he said.

One of the biggest problems recently is the cost to produce items versus the price they're sold at. Farmers are seeing a drastic loss in margins.

For example, the average national retail price for a pound of cheddar cheese is $4.69. Of that, a farmer sees only $1.47.

A gallon of milk averages $4.39, while the farmer only gets $1.34.

"It's just been devastating, the prices we have received as producers," said Gibbons.

No one wants to pay more for milk, so farmers hope something can be done to control other prices -- like processing, distribution, or even feed. Still, that just means people in those lines of work would have slimmer margins themselves.

"Those guys deserve to make a living just like we do," Wayment said. "It's just somewhere along the line we've got to get to a place where we have a little bit of an equilibrium."

It is a difficult problem that doesn't appear to have an easy solution.

"We keep thinking tomorrow will be better, tomorrow will be better," said Wayment. "So we keep doing what we do."

Wayment says farming has always been a gamble.

But even in gambling, sometimes you win. The past few years, it's only been losing.


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Alex Cabrero


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