WEST BEND, Wisc. — The new rotary milking parlor at Roden Echo Valley Farm in West Bend will significantly boost production.
"The cows are doing amazing," said part-owner Rick Roden. "Trying to teach an old dog new tricks isn't easy sometimes."
The parlor, which now allows the farm to milk 240 cows an hour, which is up from 80, has come online during Wisconsin's highest milk prices in years.
According to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, milk is selling on average right now for about $23 per 100 pounds of milk.
That's well up from last year's low of around $17. It fell below $14 in 2020.
“They [cows] love riding on this rotary," said Roden. "I don’t know what it is. All we are doing on the rotary is harvesting their milk."
These are happy cows it seems, which are satisfying hungry customers overseas. But, Roden is still barely breaking even.
The price spike in Wisconsin comes on the back of a jump in dairy exports — nearly 15 percent last year — and growing domestic demand as the country rebounds from the pandemic.
Roden says global milk production is down, so the world is looking to the U.S., especially with a slightly weakened dollar.
“In Wisconsin, 90 percent of our milk gets made into cheese, and 90 percent of our cheese gets exported," said Roden.
That gives America's dairy land an advantage over other states, because cheese has a longer shelf-life than milk, making it easier to export.
Although milk prices are up, so are input costs, like feed. That cuts into profitability.
“It’s not like we’re making any more money," said Roden. "Everything is relative. Everything is going up at the same pace.”
Supplies took a big hit during the pandemic, leading to higher prices for seed and other necessities to run the farm and feed the cows.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine is now also impacting farmers.
“We’re affected by the fuel price too, which cuts into our bottom line," said Roden.
Roden said that through some help from the federal government, as well as cash crops, his farm has managed to get by, despite years of lows prices.
But it's never been easy, he said, running a 24/7, 365 day operation. Cows need milking every day. They don't take any holidays.
“It’s going to be a balancing act, and a lot of more new normals for us going forward from here," said Roden.