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Dairy farmers caught in Canadian trade dispute find buyers

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All but a handful of the Wisconsin dairy farms caught up in a trade dispute with Canada may have found buyers for their milk — just in time, the Milwaukee (Wis.) Journal Sentinel reported.

Canada recently informed major Wisconsin and New York processors that, as of May 1, it would no longer have a market for their ultra-filtered milk. In Wisconsin, this action was expected to affect about 75 farmers, leaving them with no buyer for about 1 million lb. of their daily milk production.

Grassland Dairy Products Inc. in Greenwood, Wis., was one of the companies that had to inform its farmer-suppliers that it would be reducing intake due to the Canadian trade policy.

“Grassland recently made the difficult decision to reduce our milk intake volumes. After years of selling milk product into Canada, our Canadian partners notified us that, due to their new Canadian dairy regulations, they would stop purchasing our products, effective immediately,” the company announced after it had sent letters to dairy producers. “The Canadian business affects Grassland up to 1 million lb. of milk per day. After evaluating and adjusting as much milk as possible, we were forced to decrease our milk intake.”

Grassland Dairy said despite the sudden news, it hoped farms would be able to transition during the next several weeks. “This was a difficult decision and made with the utmost respect for the hard-working dairy farmers,” the company said.

The story caught national attention, causing state and federal lawmakers to urgently seek a solution. It also caught the attention of President Donald Trump.

While the situation remains unresolved, dairy farmers close to the situation told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that nearly all of the 58 farms under contract with Grassland Dairy will have milk buyers by the end of the week. Even though the agreements may be be short term, the farms will avoid having to dump their milk.

Some of the contracts have come from Mullins Cheese, Dairy Farmers of America and Rolling Hills Cooperative, the Sentinel reported.

“There’s still more work to be done, but things are looking positive,” said Carrie Mess, a dairy farmer from Watertown who has worked with the affected farms to find milk buyers.

Some of the farms won’t get the prices they had received from Grassland Dairy, but they will be able to remain in business.

John Pagel, president of the Dairy Business Milk Marketing Cooperative based in Green Bay, Wis., said the news is positive but added that until each and every one of these farmers has a buyer for their milk— and long-term solutions are in place — the work is not done.

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