Driving through Plymouth today, it is hard to imagine it was all farmland not that long ago. Much of that farmland aided the feeding of many dairy cows, but all that ended 33 years ago. On August 21, 1986, Plymouth’s Post newspaper ran a story titled, “Plymouth’s Last Dairy Farm Bows to Buyout.” The Leuer family owned the farm, which had been in dairy production since 1919. With the buyout, the farm would cease to be a dairy farm and would only be a crop farm.
The buyout was a part of the federal government’s 1986 Whole Herd Buyout Program. The federal government paid farmers a certain amount to either slaughter their cows or export them to another country. Why would the federal government be willing to do this? The government grew tired of buying up surplus dairy products and wanted to entice farmers to stop farming with the hope that the supply of milk would decrease. Many farmers were willing to take the government up on this program to get out of the immense amount of debt brought on by the farm and because dairying continued to be a too much work for not much reward.
This program tried to address the issue of farms adding more and more cows to raise their production in order to make ends meet. With low milk prices, many dairy farmers felt the pressure to “get big or get out.” Many farmers agreed to the Whole Herd Buyout Program because it was simply much more profitable to stop milking cows. In the end, the program did lead to a slight decrease in surplus in 1987, but low milk prices continues to challenge milk producers throughout the United States.
One of the biggest concerns over the program was the possibility of the farm land being turned over to developers. Older farmers were willing to finish out their careers as farmers, but the next generation was not as willing to take over the family farm. Farmland would then be lost to the development of cities. Some farmers even sold development rights to their property with the caveat that they could keep farming. Once the owner decided to retire, the farm would be open for development.
Revisiting this article over 30 years later, it is clear it was a sign of a changing era. Dairy farms never returned to Plymouth and the city continued to change. The program likely jump started changes that were already in motion all around the United States.