As our nations’ capital remains in gridlock, and many government employees face the fallout of a record long partial government shutdown, our dairy farmers are staggering amidst the fallout of four years of low milk prices. My job as a veterinarian brings me into the barns of dairy farmers all across western New York State, and it is nothing new for the conversation to land on the milk price. This is not surprising, since 2019 marks the fourth year in a row that many of the farms that I service have been losing money daily, and there is no indication that this trend will change anytime soon!
In the last couple years we have seen milk marketing cooperatives that have been around for generations fold, milk processing plants close, and milk being dumped into manure ponds in an effort to balance supply as the United States milk consumption and exports remains low. Many dairy farmers have faced what their fathers and grandfathers never did- the realization that they might not even have a place to sell their milk tomorrow. In 2018, conversations on farms seemed to shift from low milk prices, to that of the prices of everything in agriculture being bad. The price of crops, like corn, has remained low (a lot of dairymen sold corn this year to try to get some cash). The value of dairy cattle replacement (usually bred dairy heifers- which can be another income source for dairy farmers) is about half of what they sold for a couple years ago (and about half as much as it cost to raise them!). When farmers send cows or calves to the sale for beef, it is not unusual now to get a bill in the mail instead of a payment, because the trucking and commission is more than the animal sold for! Then on top of this, you add the weather: 2018 was one of the wettest, and most difficult fall harvest seasons on record (see my blog post “Does Your Mood Change With The Weather?”) The result was significantly increased labor and machinery costs, and poorer feed quality which will now play out through this coming year in more cow health issues and decreased milk production! I always like to be an encourager, to look for the positive, to give some hope to my clients, but as we start this New Year I am really struggling to find some good news.
That is until I step back and look at the big picture, to consider what really matters in life. Dairy farmers and veterinarians (and many other professionals who enter a career because they love their work), have a tendency to let work dominate their lives. The good, that is our work, steps upon and shoves out of the way the better, which is our families, our friends, and even our heavenly Father who gave us the gift of our careers in the first place. The silver lining to this dark cloud (that is over not just dairy farmers, but much of America), is that hard times jolt us back to reality and give us opportunity to get our priorities back to where they should be.
For most of us it is easy to come up with a quick list of what is wrong, but have you ever tried listing all that you have to be thankful for? Such as food on the table, a warm bed, the skid steer starting this morning, and the milking crew showing up! Often we find that there is a lot more to be thankful for than we realize, and I bet that at the top of your list would be family, friends, and even valued employees. You see at the end of the day, it is the RELATIONSHIPS that really matter and make a difference in our lives. I myself have often farmed alone, and I know that problems loom larger, and I become overwhelmed much quicker when I am alone, as compared to when I have my brother or a friend by my side. It is more though, than just an extra hand to hold a wrench, or extra person to push a cow into the head gate. It is the encouragement to keep going, it is the pleasure of companionship and conversation, it is knowing that you are not facing the problems of that day alone.
Our relationships on the farm can be what bring us the most joy in life, but unfortunately, they can also be what brings the most pain. Having worked on many different farms over the years, I have been privileged to work for farm families where problems were exciting and memorable challenges that we had fun solving together. On other farms though, the smallest of issues seemed to quickly ignite blaming and yelling. You see, often our biggest problem is not the milk price. Now this is where the good news comes in:
We have a perfect Father God and brother, the Lord Jesus Christ, who want to help us through the challenges of farming:
When we love the Lord, we never struggle alone on the farm! God is always with us, is always able to help us, and always loves us! He wants you to know him, to love him, and to farm with Him. Yet, God is much different than our earthly fathers. God never misunderstands us. This is because he made us; he gave us our personality, our abilities, and he even put in our hearts the love of farming, for that is what he purposed us to do. There is nothing in your personal past or future that surprises Him, because He knows every detail of both. (He even knows every mistake that we ever have or ever will make and He still loves us!) Unlike our earthly fathers, God literally has the power to change the weather, keep machinery from breaking, or heal a dying animal. Because God is God, He can make and keep promises that no one else can. In John 16, Jesus spoke of joy that no one can take from us (vs 22), of the promise of answered prayer (vs 23), and of God’s love for us (vs 27). Jesus then concluded by saying in verse 33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” We are experiencing tribulation on our farms right now, and we need someone who can overcome our problems and deliver peace!
Many of us have unconsciously believed that we would find lasting joy, peace, and satisfaction in farming, in hobbies, in marriage relationships, in children, etc., but problems and difficulties always seem to steal our joy and make life hard. Why? The answer is because we live in a broken world.
The Bible says that the brokenness all around us is a result of people saying “no” to God’s plan and living life their own way. The Bible calls this rebellion sin. The perfect world God made at the beginning of creation was marred by Adam and Eve’s first act of disobedience. When sin entered the world it brought the curse of death and disease, drought and natural disaster. We live under the curse of other’s sin, but every one of us chooses to add to this world’s curse with our own sin. Just think of how many farms and farm families have split over angry words. How many successful businessmen have lost everything when they neglected their marriage vows?
The good news is that God has great power to heal even the most broken of relationships (read the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-24), but first we must be reconciled with God. The Bible states that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Our greatest need is God’s forgiveness; without it we would all suffer for our sin eternally in Hell! (Luke 16:19-31; Matt 10:28-33). Yet, God is the perfect Judge of the universe and he cannot let even one sin go unpunished. So in the greatest act of love ever imagined, God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ and served our death penalty on the cross. After three days in a tomb God the Father raised Jesus to life! Now everyone who trusts in Jesus and repents (asks God for forgiveness and turns away from their sin) is completely forgiven (1 John 1:9), adopted into God’s family (Ephesians 1:5), and will live with the Lord in heaven forever! This is the Good News and the sure hope that we have even in 2019!
2019 is shaping up to be another difficult year, but we need not worry because God is in control. If we seek Him, and regularly give Him thanks for all the good things He has given us, we will find God’s supernatural peace and joy even in the midst of difficulties. If you struggle to believe that there really is a loving God out there, I encourage you to simply ask God in prayer to show Himself to you, and then start reading the Bible (the book of John is a good place to start). I also encourage you to contact me or someone else at Grace Baptist Church. God is real! He has answered my prayers time and time again, and helped me through many difficulties on the farm (see my blog post “What Do You Do When You Are In a Bind”). Yes, I am praying for the milk price to come up, but my prayer for each farmer this year is for much more than that: that they come to trust the Lord to bear the burdens of life and farming; that they experience God’s immense love; that they grow closer to their loved ones; that they enjoy those they work with; and that they find joy in the simple gifts- like that of a new born calf, the smell of fresh cut hay, or their son or grandson riding in the tractor with them.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?...But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."