Arkansas Agriculture - Edition 44

Faces Of Agriculture

Gregg Patterson 2017-02-07 02:54:04

Two Years Of Good, Five Years Of Bad The life of a dairyman Mike Fisher’s days as a dairyman are numbered, and he knows it. The Beebe dairyman is a vanishing breed in Arkansas. Only sixty-something dairies remain in a state that once had up to 1,500. When asked why he still does it, Fisher offers a self-deprecating smile and a one-word answer. “Ignorance.” The traditional bucolic farm scene of dairy cows dotting the landscape amid lush green pastureland is a rare sight in the Natural State. He and other dairymen describe the business as two years of good and five years of bad. “You make money for two years and then spend the next five giving it all back,” Fisher said. Such is the life of a dairyman. Fisher, 69, grew up on a dairy farm his dad started in 1948. He’s approaching year 31 in the dairy business. “I thoroughly enjoy it, raising cows and milking cows.” Fisher helped his father on the farm then went to college and earned an agriculture economics degree. His dad quit the dairy business in 1972. Fisher seemed to be through with any dairying himself as he first worked for his uncle’s feed mill. Then he went to work for 17 years at Bruce Oakley, Inc. Fisher had been out of the dairy business for 14 years when he decided to get back into it in 1986. He was still working for Oakley at the time. He built his herd up to 120. He began scaling back to where he and his wife, Susan, run the operation on their own now with 60 cows. They also raise beef cattle. Fisher kept his ag economics degree in play, too, becoming a loan officer for First Security bank in Beebe in 2000. He retired this year. Fisher is a firm believer in the Farm Bureau mission to work on behalf of agriculture. He’s been involved in the White County Farm Bureau since the early 1990s. He served as its president in 2013-14. “I was approached and asked to serve on the (county) board. I had always wondered what Farm Bureau did,” Fisher said. “The whole thing I like about Farm Bureau is it’s a true grassroots operation. I truly believe that, and its actions show it. Whatever the counties come up with as resolutions, they take them to the state. They vote on them. And they do something. When it’s decided, Farm Bureau backs it 100 percent. It’s one voice. And I know I have someone speaking up for me. It’s more important now than it ever was, because there are so few of us.” It’s a way of farming that needs a voice as it continues shrinking here. Fisher says Arkansas dairies produce only 5 percent of the milk bottled in Arkansas. The rest is from out-of-state dairies. He says most of the dairymen now in Arkansas are older. “It’s just real expensive to start up a dairy,” Fisher said. He says he knows of only one new dairy startup in Arkansas during the last 10 years. Maximize the yield you can get, and keep your debt low. Fisher says that’s the primary wisdom he learned from his father. “That’s how he said you ride out the rough times.” Mike Fisher has ridden out some bad times, and he knows in these troubled times for dairymen in Arkansas that his days are numbered in the business. But he still enjoys it. Why does he still do it? Like he said, “ignorance.” Fisher still loves what he does. And at least in his case, ignorance truly is bliss.

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