“Western Wisconsin led nation in 2020 farm bankruptcies,” screams the Leader-Telegram headline.

We’re losing dairy farms in America’s Dairyland at an alarming rate. For every bankruptcy there are several others who have just given up and quit, and stories of personal tragedy. We’re not just losing small businesses and picturesque farm life, but our rural communities, and the crop of capable hard-working responsible young citizens that dairy farms produce.

Dairy farmers are the hardest working and one of the most deserving, but underpaid, folks in our world. They work long hours in a dangerous occupation and risk all they have without the benefit or protection of paid health insurance, unemployment, minimum wage, employee benefit packages, matched contributions, paid personal days or vacations. Many are simply unable to pay their bills in the current economy, let alone buy health insurance or provide security for retirement.

I think Wisconsinites are still close enough to the land that we recognize the need and would be willing to better support our dairy farmers.

Here’s my plan: The 1% Solution.

Put a 1% levy on the retail price of non-farm manufactured drinks sold in Wisconsin, to be paid by the manufacturers, and give that money to the dairy farmers based on the amount of milk they ship, up to the amount produced by a typical family farm. With the number of C-stores probably now outnumbering Wisconsin dairy farms, that could be a significant assist to the dairy farmer, and I doubt it would raise prices to the consumer.

Go to your favorite grocery or C-store, and you’ll see maybe one display case devoted to milk drinks, but a dozen other cases pushing many varieties of soda, diet soda, energy drinks, etc., made of carbonated water, sugar or artificial sweeteners, caffeine and other chemicals, and heavily promoted with lots of advertising. Tell me: Which drinks (dairy or manufactured) cause obesity, health issues and add to the health care burden? Which ones do you think have the highest profit margin? Can’t we give the dairy farmer/producer some justice from the other drinks that have eroded his business?

The farmer buys the equipment to plow the field to plant the seed that grows the hay to feed the cows to make the milk to give twice a day to fill the tank to ship the milk and sell to the processor who packages and marks up the milk to the retailer who shelves and marks it up again to the consumer, and everyone benefits except the farmer who’s loosing money but can’t quit — no unemployment, sick leave or paid vacation. The bank loan will take his home and the minimum wage overtime and plant closure rules do not apply so he keeps working until the bills can’t be paid and the creditors take what he owns away.

Sad but true: The farmer, who provides our food, has a huge investment and much at risk, but little or no leverage to withhold his services and product and must take the price offered, even if less than his cost. Our dairy farmers are suffering severely. It’s our responsibility to treat them more fairly. It would cost very little and we would all benefit.

I’ll help anyone who would like to make this a reality.

Peters, who was raised on a dairy farm, graduated from UW-Stout and has worked in real estate since 1974, resides in the town of Washington.