SAUK CITY, Wis. - Over the last several years, Wisconsin has seen thousands of dairy farmers leave the industry. New statistics show the state lost more than 500 farms in 2017.
Remaining farmers are trying to attract college students to continue the tradition of being America's Dairyland.
"As an industry, we have to figure out how we're going to be able to have farms of all sizes and allow those farms to be profitable and how we can get the next generation of farmers on our farms," said Mystic Valley farmer Mitch Breunig.
Numbers from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection show 8,801 milk cow herds were registered at the start of 2018. In 2017, there were 9,304 farms, compared to 11,761 five years before that.
Despite this, the state is still producing the same amount of milk and the number of cows has remained close to the same.
But losing farms in rural areas of Wisconsin could hurt smaller communities.
"There was a time there were 40,000 farms... this is a continuing trend that's been happening since I was a little boy," Breunig said.
He adds that years of low dairy prices caused many farmers to leave the industry. He thinks the intense career of running a farm 24/7 with the struggle to remain profitable has forced Wisconsin families to make the difficult decision to close their farm.
"To be honest, right now I think all farms are struggling, whether you're small or whether you're big," he said.
Breunig has become a mentor for the next generation, hoping they can take over for the farms lost.
UW-Platteville student Elizabeth Arrigoni has been following Breunig to decide what area of the dairy industry she wants to get into.
"Without agriculture, we would have absolutely nothing. And it definitely needs our generation to step up and replace those farms that are leaving. It's not just in Wisconsin, it's everywhere. And it's definitely a huge issue. You could almost call it a crisis," Arrigoni said.
Although she didn't grow up with a farming background, she is double majoring in agriculture business and animal science.
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