Connecticut’s dairy industry is far from one of the largest agriculture sectors in the country, but it is struggling like many others in the country.
The state has more than 100 farms, with an economic output in the tens of millions, but those farms provide a critical role in the delivery of dairy products as an export for the state.
Over the years, it’s become even more difficult to maintain a class family farm, says Ben Freund, the owner of Freund’s Farm in East Canaan.
“When you’re that disruptive, you’re going to have huge losses,” Freund said, referring to the trade war with China, and other trade tensions the United States has with historical economic and trade allies.
Freund has about 350 cows at his dairy farm, and they are milked 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He says that milk hasn’t been as profitable as the tensions and tariffs have increased.
The USDA provided Freund’s Farm with $6,000 in subsidies last year to make up for $120,000 in losses.
Because of that, and the dairy industry being the midst of a five-year decline, Freund had to dip into his retirement to cover bills on the farm.
He said, “We have to. We have no other option.”
President Donald Trump announced a new $16 billion aid package for farmers last week, but Connecticut producers aren’t optimistic they’re going to see payments much higher than the $6,000 that Freund received last year.
“A vibrant dairy industry is crucial to the entire agricultural economy,” said Bryan Hurlburt, Connecticut’s agriculture commissioner.
Hurlburt says what’s happened to dairy farms in Connecticut has been a troubling trend across the country.
“Even in a state like Wisconsin, they lost over 600 dairy farms last year, out of 2,000 nationally. So, when Wisconsin’s hurting, that means the pain felt by our smaller producers here in Connecticut is even more exacerbated.”
Ben Freund has advice for policymakers in Washington on how to make his farm and others successful.
“Just get out of our way and let the natural order, economic order proceed,” he said. “We can compete on a global basis with anybody. We can’t outcompete someone when politics are in the way.”