Wisconsin Dairy Farmers Going Bankrupt in Record Numbers, Blame Trump Tariffs


A perfect storm hit Wisconsin dairy farms: Overproduction, Bad Decisions, Trump's Tariffs

A trio of major errors hit Wisconsin dairy farmers, but the last one, Trump's tariffs, was the final straw threw many Wisconsin farmers into bankruptcy.

Please consider Stung by Trump’s Trade Wars, Wisconsin’s Milk Farmers Face Extinction.

For decades, Denise and Tom Murray rose before 5 a.m. and shuffled through mud and snow to milk cows on the farm that has been in their family since 1939. This month, after years of falling milk prices and mounting debt, the Murrays sold their last milk cow, taking pictures while holding back tears as the final one was loaded onto a truck and taken away.

“It’s awful hard to see them go out the last time,” said Ms. Murray, 53. “It’s scary because you don’t know what your next paycheck is going to be.”

Over the past two years, nearly 1,200 of the state’s dairy farms have stopped milking cows and so far this year, another 212 have disappeared, with many shifting production to beef or vegetables. The total number of herds in Wisconsin is now below 8,000 — about half as many as 15 years ago. In 2018, 49 Wisconsin farms filed for bankruptcy — the highest of any state in the country, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Short-Term Pain Nonsense

Trump pleads that it's short-term pain for long-term gain. But it's tough to see any long-term gain when the intermediate term is bankruptcy.

The Murray's received all of $400 from Trump's farm aid package. “In every aspect, it’s not worth it — it’s not worth the fight,” said Mr. Murray.

Price of Milk

The price of milk is about where it was in mid-2010. The price has gone essentially nowhere since late-2014.

The price of new equipment and services and have gone up.

Final Straw

Trump's the trade wars were the final straw.

  • The new North American trade deal, which is supposed to give dairy farmers more access to Canada’s tightly controlled market, has yet to be ratified by Congress and may never be approved given Democratic opposition.
  • Mr. Trump has yet to remove his metal tariffs on trading partners like Europe, Canada and Mexico, which refuse to lift their retaliatory tariffs [on agricultural goods] until those levies come off.


In 2012, Mr. Walker put into place a program to encourage dairy farmers to step up production with the goal of producing 30 billion pounds of milk a year by 2020. That was easily accomplished by 2016, but the oversupply crippled the industry.

“He wanted to put Wisconsin back into the lead in milk production over California,” said Joel Greeno, a dairy farmer and the president of the Wisconsin advocacy group Family Farm Defenders. “It was more an example of arrogance than practicality.”

Supply Management

Many farmers favor the idea of a supply management program for dairy like the one Canada uses, but the Trump administration has not supported such a program.

Stop the Meddling!

  1. Trump's tariffs and the counter-tariffs have killed farmers. End the tariffs.
  2. Stop production goals.
  3. Stop worrying about which state is number one.
  4. Stop nonsense about supply management programs.

If some farmers still go under, well too bad.

Nobody guarantees programmers a job. Nobody should guarantee farmers a job either.

Let's not turn the US into France in a misguided effort to save the family farm.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

Comments (61)
No. 1-25

Mish, while I agree that the tariff has added some fuel to the fire, the fire has been burning long before Trump took office. Farming in general is very hard work and very risky. The following link explains some of the difficulties that have been plaguing dairy farmers for years. The tariff could just be the straw that breaks the camel's back, but the load on the camel has been excessive for quite some time. I feel for farmers in general, but it seems as if demand for milk in the USA has been declining for quite some time. Probably going hand-in-hand with the decline of breakfast cereals.


as a programmer for over 30 years, I have had to constantly update my skillset. I now do machine learning. I do not see any parallel for dairy farmers. Do they grow something different, convert their fields into a casino? I have no idea how a dairy farmer adapts. That is a bad analogy in my opinion.


This article mentions nothing that makes sense. US farmers could not sell to Canada to begin with so how on earth do steel tariffs affect milk sales. Really? I know you don't like tariffs but don't blame steel tariffs on milk sales to Canada where they were not selling to begin with. All this sounds like is complete mismanagement of production and the arrogance of govt sticking their nose into private enterprise. What I get from this artices i s that the govt is incompetent, not tariffs? If you or they are blaming tariffs please elaborate on exactly what tariffs and how this affected sales.



You have provided zero data or evidence that Trump's tariffs have caused any harm to dairy farmers. It looks like government centralized market dictates are the real issue.


  1. Trump's tariffs and the counter-tariffs have killed farmers. End the tariffs

The use of BGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) has increased milk production per cow from 540 gallons per year in 1944 to 2,753 gallons in 2017 (https://civileats.com/2018/11/05/whats-behind-the-crippling-dairy-crisis-family-farmers-speak-out/#respond). Of course dairy farmers have gone out of business with the over-supply of milk. Canada does not allow the use of BGH nor would I, as a Canadian, buy milk or milk products made with milk from cows injected with BGH.