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Dairy farmers find new purpose

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BARRE MILLS, Wis. (WXOW) –  The dairy crisis continues in Wisconsin. In 2018, more than 2,700 dairy farms in the U.S. went out of business, with nearly a third of those closures taking place in Wisconsin, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures. So far this year, more than 300 dairy farms in the dairy state shut down between January and May.

There are many factors involved in the reason farms close. Family farms are at the mercy of trade wars, the economy and Americans consuming less milk. Off of County Road M in Barre Mills in La Crosse County you’ll find acres and acres of farmland on what’s left of the Lane Creek Dairy Farm.

“It’s always kind of a jolt to see it empty,” Johanna Berg said as she walked through what used to be their free stall barn to milk their dairy cows.

In 2017, the Berg’s made the tough decision to quit the dairy business. “The money was not there. The bills were getting larger, the milk check was sometimes at a zero amount when it would come in the mail,” said Berg.

Dairy farming was their life, “farming is everybody’s bread and butter,” said Johanna’s husband Jeff, who grew up on the farm.

“We used to bring our kids out here in their stroller in the middle of the barn as we milked the cows,” said Johanna. The Berg’s raised their four children on the land.

A majority of that land had to be sold. “It was difficult to look out the window out there and know that that wasn’t ours anymore. You lose your animals and what you thought was your legacy to your children and their children.”

And they aren’t the only ones going through this, “used to be everybody milked cows, farm here farm there but now there’s like nobody left,” added Jeff.

It just one year before they sold that the Berg’s hosted the La Crosse County Dairy Breakfast. But even then they knew times were tough.

Today their outlook is still positive. “So we know on one hand even though it wasn’t our decision to sell the animals, the farm, we realize now it’s working out okay. That’s the way it needs to be right now. We couldn’t have kept on going with his health,” said Johanna.

Jeff was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 30 years ago.  “Actually the week before we got married I told her to run. She stayed,” said Jeff with a smile.

They’re tackling life’s obstacles together.  “We sold at a good time… a good thing for us, maybe not what we wanted at the time but now we’re okay with it. Not everybody gets that choice,” explained Johanna.

Their hope for other farmers facing the same circumstances is that they are free to make the choice to close on their own and to do a job they love for as long as they choose. “It’s not your fault. We’re giving it all we can, we gave it all we can and it wasn’t enough.”

For now, they are still seeing the beauty in life and hoping that other farmers can make it through these hard times and find a new purpose like they have.

Johanna and her daughter are re-purposing and selling old barn wood, candles and other barn items as a hobby. The Berg’s sell the items they make in the barn on weekends. You can follow them on Facebook.

RELATED: Farm Aid Telethon coming Friday to WXOW-TV: Support our family farmers

RELATED: Dairyland at a Crossroads

Brittany Lake

Daybreak Anchor

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