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Bankruptcies Increase Among Small Farmers, Threatening Wisconsin's Dairy Heritage

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Over the past 10 years, milk prices have been declining. Amid production increases and waning demand, Wisconsin’s dairy farmers are finding themselves in an increasingly difficult predicament. Filings for Chapter 12 federal bankruptcy — the chapter of the bankruptcy code designed for family farming and commercial fishing operations — have doubled in Wisconsin over the past five years, as many small farms continue the fight to preserve the state’s dairy heritage.

The difficulties facing these farmers are the subject of a new report out Thursday from the Wisconsin Policy Forum. Jason Stein, the forum’s research director, explains why dairy farmers are particularly vulnerable to some market forces.

"You know, some types of commodity producers — like grain producers — have an ability to take in a harvest, put it in a silo, and store it at least for some period of time to wait for better prices if need be. For dairy farmers, that’s obviously not an option," says Stein.

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Joy Powers joined WUWM January 2016 as a producer for Lake Effect. Before then, she was a director and producer for Afternoon Shift, on WBEZ-fm Chicago Public Radio.