Minnesota dairy farmer breaks down over family's plight in viral video

Many smaller farming operations are struggling in Minnesota.
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Mark berg

A Minnesota man is going viral after he passionately described the struggles facing his family's dairy farm in a Facebook video.

Mark Berg is the 26-year-old son of Tom and Penny Berg, the owners of the 200-cow Trailside Dairy near Pine Island in southeastern Minnesota.

At a time when smaller dairy operations are shutting down all over the country as they lose out because of larger-scale dairy farms and volatile milk prices, Berg put a voice to the plight facing many family-owned operations in Minnesota.

The video, which has been viewed more than 260,000 times as of Friday morning, was prompted after an argument Berg had his with father.

"Just got done arguing with my dad, just yelling screaming back and forth, you know it never used to be that way, it never did. And it's not our fault. It isn't. It isn't our fault. It isn't fair. But you know the comment that he ended with was, 'I've worked here 40 f----- years' and I have less than what I started with.' And it's true, you know. My parents work harder than anyone I know, I can't keep up with them."

Minnesota dairy farms just experienced their worst year, with a University of Minnesota report finding that the median income at dairy farm in the state dropped from $43,000 in 2017 to just $15,000 in 2018.

Here's Berg's video (warning: contains a few swear words).

As Berg explains as he wipes tears from his eyes, his family isn't looking to be rich, just sustainable.

"You know because people don't realize the world doesn't revolve around money. We're not asking to make a million you know we don't need to be rich, life isn't about being rich, it's not about having money. But when you literally work day in and day out all the time for nothing, we gain nothing. We are taking loans just to pay bills, and that's the current situation for dairy farming.

"We've got literally farmers committing suicide all the time, it's not like a few ... wives coming home to their husbands dead in the house because they've lost everything they had and they feel like they've failed every generation before them."

"It's not just dairy farming, crop farming's crap, pigs are crap everything is crap. Everything farm related is just a waste of your time. Nobody realizes that nobody gets it. Because they just go to the grocery store and they get food and it's there. They don't realize that people are literally losing their lives because they're working for nothing."

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Berg notes that his mother Penny, 60, wrote to dairy company Land O'Lakes to explain their struggles, and even received a call back from CEO Beth Ford, who suggested they could help them find another job.

"That made my mom feel useless – what you're doing isn't going to make you money so you might as well try something else," Mark Berg said. "This isn't about making money, this isn't about money. I just want a fair cut. I just want my family to be happy."

Penny Berg, however, told the Star Tribune that she realized Ford meant well during their conversation.

The challenges facing dairy farmers

Minnesota-based Land O'Lakes, a member-owned cooperative that is one of America's largest dairy companies, sent out some "thoughts" in response to Berg's video.

"The last few years have been extremely difficult for everyone in the agriculture industry and arguably no sector has been hit harder than dairy," a spokesperson said.

"The pain in the country, for farm families and rural farm communities is very real. As a farmer-owned cooperative, Land O’Lakes is deeply empathetic about the difficulties farmers are facing, and also committed to supporting our farmer and ag-retail members as we navigate this challenging time together.

"We understand that our farmers are working day in and day out, and in many cases, they fear the worst when it comes to future viability of their farms."

Land O'Lakes says it offers a "competitive pay price" for milk from its members, as well as offering "strong annual patronage payments" and various other services for its members.

"Land O’Lakes has continued to have conversations with the Berg family who, like so many of our members and others in the dairy industry, are trying to navigate the difficult agriculture environment. We hear their concerns, and we plan to continue an open dialogue with them, as we always do, with our cooperative’s farmer-owners."

Dairy farmers sell milk per hundredweight (100 lbs.), and the price per hundredweight is currently at $15.76, per the USDA.

Some farmers however have been calling for the government to set a minimum price for milk at around $20 per hundredweight, according to USA Today.

As well as pressure from larger scale operations and price volatility, the dairy industry could also be suffering as the result of changing consumer tastes.

The Eater reports that the Dairy Farmers of America – representing 30 percent of U.S. milk producers – reported a drop in sales of $1.1 billion in 2018.

While some of this was down to a $1.45 drop in the average price of milk, the Eater suggests that rising popularity of alternative milk products like oat, nut, and soy milk may also be taking a toll, with sales of nut and plant milks rising 9 percent last year.

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Dairy farms evaporating throughout Minnesota

Long strenuous hours and rising operating costs can be blamed for fewer milk producers in Minnesota. The Star Tribune reports there are roughly 4,079 dairy farms in the state -- 356 fewer than in January 2011.