David and Laurie Kyle, and their son, Hayden (front, holding their dog, Schultz) said the coronavirus pandemic had led to some scary moments for dairy farmers but the prices are finally improving and the future looks positive. (Heather Ruenz photo)

Local farmer sees promising future for industry

By Heather Ruenz

Staff Writer

Last fall and even into winter, milk prices looked promising but when the coronavirus hit, the bottom fell out, according to one local dairy farmer.

“We felt good about where we were headed (but) once the milk price started to fall, it got pretty scary. Our milk check ­– our income – was cut in half but our expenses stayed the same because we still have to take care of the cows,” said David Kyle, of Kylecrest Holsteins and Jerseys in Elkhorn.

David, his wife, Laurie, and their son, Hayden operate the farm, which has about 165 dairy cows. Their daughter, Mackenzie and her fiancée, Logan, also help out.

As if the milk price plummeting wasn’t scary enough, David said, the beef market soon followed and all but shut down. That meant the Kyle family had nowhere to go with their retired animals.

“Those two things were really scary. We went to Woodman’s and I never thought I’d see aisles that were almost bare. It was eerie, knowing I can’t get rid of my cows and have limits on how much milk I can sell,” David said.

He serves on the board of Foremost, a dairy cooperative that processes its farmer-members’ milk into a variety of dairy products, mostly cheese. It was formed when Wisconsin Dairies, Golden Guernsey and Associated Milk Producers, Inc. consolidated.

David said the Foremost board decided early on amid the coronavirus to ask its members to reduce milk production. At the time, they expected the demand would be reduced along with possible logistical challenges.

“It was only a few percent reduction overall and it adds up for farmers. But I really think doing that helped prevent us from dumping milk like was happening in some places,” he said.

In an effort to ease the worries of farmers in the area he oversees, David said he reached out to them with a text message each week for a few weeks.

“I let them know how things looked and just tried to stay in contact with them,” he said. “It was funny because the fourth week I didn’t send a text for whatever reason. Then they were reaching out to me, asking what was going on. Having that communication with them has been good for all of us.”

Making a recovery

According to David, now, nearly three months after the start of the COVID-19 crisis, the prices have improved and the future milk price looks very promising.

“It’s all about demand and what I think really helped was the government stepped up and bought cheese for food banks. There was also a lot of donated milk, too,” David, who also serves on the National Milk Producers board, said.

Another factor is that people started cooking at home more, he said, and while that initially was because restaurants were closed, cooking led to people buying more dairy products.

“I think people learned, hey, this tastes better with real butter, plus they started buying more cheese to use with their cooking,” David said.

Despite the trying times the Kyle family has gone through the past few months, they said a lot of good has come out of it.

“A lot of farmers reached out to Dave throughout this and I think not only are we stronger as an industry but also as a family,” Laurie said.

Laurie, who owns Perk Up, a coffee shop in Elkhorn, uses milk she purchases at Kwik Trip because Foremost is part of the convenience store’s supply chain. They also sell Wisconsin cheese and butter. Those along with the milk are sold under Kwik Trip labels.

“It’s an easy way to support many Wisconsin farmers,” she said.

Foremost is also the cheese supplier for the following pizza brands: California Pizza Kitchen, DiGiorno, Jack’s and Tombstone.

Laurie and David were recently filmed for an upcoming episode of Discover Wisconsin about four Wisconsin farm families that farm and also manage to have another business.

“It’s going to be a great message to share for the state dairy industry and was an honor to be part of,” she said.

The episode is set to air Sunday, June 28 on WITI Fox6 Milwaukee.

The future looks bright

Of the 165 or so cows at Kylecrest Dairy, roughly 130 are jerseys, part of a transition that began after Hayden returned home from college.

Hayden, a 2012 graduate of Elkhorn Area High School who then spent two years taking the farm industry short course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said he returned home eager to try new ways of doing things.

“The Jerseys are a lot more feed efficient by being able to produce more milk from what they eat. They also have fewer health issues and the milk is better quality which increases our profit margins,” Hayden said.

David said he’s embraced Jerseys since Hayden joined him on the farm.

“It was Hayden’s passion for jerseys that rubbed off on me and it turned out to be a great move… and that’s from a self-described Holstein guy. Relationships and making the right changes are important in life and in the dairy business,” David said.

Speaking of relationships, David said another good thing to come out of the coronavirus pandemic is that people have taken turns picking each other up.

“Hayden would ask me, ‘Are we going to be OK?’ and that was my time to tell him we would. But a few days later I’d say to him, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen’ and he’d tell me we’ll get through it,” David said.

According to Laurie, their family has had fun playing games together and spent a lot of time laughing but they’ve also done a lot of talking.

“I think this situation really brought people to the root system of what to have in life, a foundation. This made parents really dig in – some for the first time – but their families will be stronger for it,” she said.

Laurie said she and David are thankful they’ve been able to go through this with their kids.

“We feel good about the future and handing it over to them. This has been a blessing to go through with them,” she said.

Read more about the state of the dairy industry in the June 18 Southern Lakes Newspapers’ publications.

 
 

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