Klobuchar visits dairy farm in rebuilding mode after fire

U.S. Senator gets a tour from Curt and Sharon Hanenburg of the couple’s milking barn in rural Pease on May 26. The barn was built new following the fire that destroyed their old dairy barn and a large number of dairy cows 18 months ago.
U.S. Senator gets a tour from Curt and Sharon Hanenburg of the couple’s milking barn in rural Pease on May 26. The barn was built new following the fire that destroyed their old dairy barn and a large number of dairy cows 18 months ago.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar visited the Curt and Sharon Hanenburg farm in rural Pease on May 26, where a new dairy barn had been built since a fire destroyed the Hanenburg dairy barn and 50 dairy cows 18 months earlier.
It was one stop among many in Klobuchar’s itinerary that week. Hours before she had visited the Steve and Carol Anderson farm in rural Foley, and was to be at a women-in-agriculture event in St. Paul later in the week, and attend an ag-related event in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
Klobuchar was accompanied by staff members Ida Rukavina, Klobuchar’s regional outreach director in Virginia, Minnesota; Andy Martin, outreach director in the Moorhead office; and Megan Lahr, Klobuchar’s deputy state director for outreach and operations.
Clint Fall, president and CEO of First District Association dairy cooperative based in Litchfield, was also at the Hanenburg farm for the visit, as were some farmers, including Dean Marshik from Morrison County and Chad Popp from Benton County.
During the lunch the Hanenburgs provided, Klobuchar said she would talk with Krysta Harden, an administrator at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about the federal milk program to see if there could be some changes to help dairy farmers. When she asked Curt Hanenburg what challenges he is having in his farming, he joked, “Just getting up in the morning,” and then added: “Everything is going good, but the milk prices could be a little higher.”
Klobuchar did not go into detail about what she hopes to get changed in the governments’s dairy program.
But Fall did talk about a couple of past and present farm programs. The federal government once had a milk-price support program in which the government would buy up quantities of surplus dairy products and that resulted in a lot of storage. That program didn’t make sense, Fall said. He noted that last year the government began offering an insurance policy that farmers could buy in case they would have a very bad year. Many farmers who tried that insurance decided not to buy it again, Fall said. Fall explained that farmers who had been under the old milk subsidy program were used to getting government payments and when they didn’t get any payments from their insurance program they decided it wasn’t something they wanted to purchase again.
Fall added that some farmers who could be helped by the insurance program will take advantage of it and buy a policy, and that insurance is for those unexpected down times.
Milk prices have swung low again in the past 1.5 years, dropping to $15.50 per cwt (per hundred pounds), according to Curt Hanenburg, who said they were at about $26 cwt when his barn burned.
But the price of grain that farmers use to feed their livestock is also down, and so despite the milk prices having fallen, their profit margin did not get squeezed enough to make the farmers who bought the insurance eligible for a payout, Fall said.
Klobuchar, standing inside one of the structures holding a bulk tank for holding milk, asked Hanenburg how his farming has been going since he rebuilt his farm. It must have taken some courage to rebuild, she told him.
Hanenburg responded that he will know in 10 years how rebuilding his dairy operation will turn out. He said that he was 50 when the fire happened and he had to decide whether to continue farming at that stage in his life.
Sharon Hanenburg told Klobuchar at the lunch table that she likes farm life and that the best of times for her family is when their three children are all home with the couple, who have a daughter Marisa Ringgaard, and sons Mitchell and Marcus. Marcus and Sharon share the milking chores with Curt Hanenburg.
As far as how the federal government’s milk program is working, Curt Hanenburg told Klobuchar that it wasn’t working so well for him.
The Hanenburg family’s new dairy barn has capacity for 90 milk cows, compared to the approximately 65 stalls in the barn that was destroyed, so the rebuilding is an expansion, Curt Hanenburg said. The Hanenburgs are still in a herd-rebuilding mode, milking 54 cows now as the Hanenburgs wait for many young heifers to have their first calf this coming fall. Then the number of milk-producing cows will increase significantly.
Reminders of the big fire remain for the Hanenburg family members. As Curt Hanenburg ushered Klobuchar through the milking barn, he pointed to one cow who was lying down and noted the scars on the cow’s back from the fire.