Tom and Denise Murray and their son Josh have worked their fingers to the bone for decades running the family dairy farm. The Wisconsin farm has been in their family since 1939. In April they watched heartbrokenly as the last of their dairy cows were loaded onto a truck and driven away.
Years of falling milk prices and mounting debt and Trump’s global tax war left them no choice but to sell off their livestock. They watched years of hard work and dedication drive away leaving nothing behind, but a dusty trail.
Wisconsin is known as “America’s Dairyland,” but at the rate, farms are disappearing they may need a new state logo and soon.
“It’s awful hard to see them go out the last time,” said Mrs. Murray, 53. “It’s scary because you don’t know what your next paycheck is going to be.”
In just the past two years, close to 1,200 of Wisconsin dairy farms have stopped milking cows. Two hundred and twelve of those dairy farms have disappeared. Some of the others have switched over to beef or raising vegetables, and some have closed their doors for good.
Back in 2018, 49 Wisconsin farms filed for bankruptcy, which is the highest rate for any state in the country according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. The federation also reports that the number of herds in the state is down to 8,000, which is half as many as the state had 15 years ago.
Dairy farms have become a pawn in Trump’s political games and while Trump focuses on rallies and Twitter, dairy farms in Wisconsin are dropping like flies.
Trump’s trade approach has driven Wisconsin’s struggling dairy farms to the brink, The price of milk has fallen close to 40 percent over the last five years. One of the hardest parts for dairy farms has been the 25 percent tariff that Mexico placed on American cheese, which is made with a significant volume of the milk produced in Wisconsin.
Despite the devastation taking place on Wisconsin dairy farms, Trump continues to insist that any short-term pain from his trade war will pay off in the long run through improved access to foreign markets. But the devastation taking place on Wisconsin dairy farms has many farmers in the state questioning if Trump’s promises will ever come true, and if they do, will it be in time to save these suffering farmers?
“Low dairy prices have made it so hard for small farms to hang on,” said Josh Murray, 22, who is studying animal science. “In every aspect, it’s not worth it — it’s not worth the fight,” he told the New York Times.
The Murray’s received $400 from Trump’s farm aid program, but it was a drop in the bucket compared to what was needed to keep their milking operation up and running. They are now looking into if they can afford to transition to a beef farm.
The new North American trade deal, which is supposed to give dairy farmers more access to Canada’s tightly controlled market, has yet to be approved by Congress. Trump refuses to remove his tariffs on metal on trading partners from Canada, Europe, and Mexico, which in response refuse to lift their retaliatory tariffs until those levies come off.
Wisconsin’s farming woes are just a small taste of the difficulties felt by farmers across the United States. In 2018 the income from farming nationally was $63.1 billion, the second-lowest total in a decade.
The U.S. Dairy Export Council released a report last year that estimated that “over the next few years retaliatory tariffs by China and Mexico could “cut American dairy exports by $2.7 billion and lower dairy farmers’ revenues by $16.6 billion if they were not rolled back.”
“He’s talked over time about how much he cares about these dairy farmers, but he hasn’t really followed up with any certainty,” Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, said of Trump. “Our farmers need good trade deals, not trade wars.”
Wisconsin dairy farmers are literally caught in the crossfire of Trump’s trade wars.
Wisconsin’s farmers are trying desperately to hang on. The Murrays are hopeful that raising beef cattle will be more profitable and less arduous than producing milk.
“You love the land, you love to watch things grow,” Ms. Murray said. “When it’s something you’re born doing, it’s hard to say you’re not going to do it anymore.”