Ken Groebner and son, Joe Groebner, in their dairy barn, on the last dairy farm in North Star Township.

Groebners to quit dairy farming after four generations

Small dairy farms are rapidly disappearing. 

Groebners’ Dairy Farm is going out of business after four generations. 

“We’re the last dairy farm in North Star Township, Ken Groebner said during a recent interview.   At one time there were 17 dairy farms in North Star.

The Groebners  began dispersing their herd of 80 Holsteins last week. The first shipment of 12 cows left the farm for the slaughter house on April 24. “They’re worth more as meat than as milk cows,” said Groebner, whose sons, Joe and Delbert, now own and operate the family dairy farm.

The farmers know that the causes of the latest dairy crisis, which has been underway for four years and counting, are complicated, as are the solutions. But a lot of dairy producers are pessimistic about the prospects for meaningful changes that will allow them to survive, let alone thrive. 

There were nearly 650,000 dairy farms in the U.S. in 1970, but just 40,219 remained at the end of 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cows are producing more milk than ever, but they’re consolidated on bigger, more efficient farms. In 1987, half of American dairy farms had 80 or fewer cows; by 2012, that figure had risen to 900 cows.

Small dairy farmers, an aging population, were some of the last U.S. holdouts against the farming industry’s pressure to grow or die — but it’s unclear how much longer they can last. Hope grew when President Donald Trump tweeted support for the dairy industry in early June at the G-7 meeting in Canada, but experts and farmers say Trump mistakenly focused his ire on trade and tariffs rather than an American industry that is increasingly hostile to small-time operators.

The perception among farmers is that politicians on both sides of the aisle “have let them down.” When they talk about developing our economy, no one really talks about helping farmers or agriculture. Politicians and candidates are speaking only with the owners of the biggest farms or the co-ops, not the working-class farmers who have owned their farms for decades and generations.

What’s happened to the milk market? 

“I wish I knew,” said Ken.  “We could place blame on a number of things. Milk is a manufactured product and we shouldn’t have to sell it on the commodity market. We farmers share some of the blame. We were interested in producing but weren’t good on the marketing. 


See complete story in this week's issue of the Springfield Advance-Press.

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