Reflections on a Life Spent Dairying

– by Pud Stringer

 

On a chilly Wednesday morning, the last day of November 2016, I removed the milker from a jersey, the last cow in the parlor that day; and as I hung the milker onto its holder, I closed a tradition that had been in the Stringer family for fifty‑four years.

She was not only the last cow of the day: she was the last cow that would ever be milked at Stringer Dairy.

It was hard to imagine that something that for all my life I had enjoyed while complaining about, that I had loved while hating the uncertainties of, and that I had championed while struggling hard against its obstacles was coming to an end.

Surely someone would jump at the chance to get up long before daylight; work twelve‑to fifteen‑hour days 365 days a year in the sun, the rain, the heat, and the sleet; and suffer the losses of drought, hurricane, and inflation to continue the dairy farm as I had so eagerly done in 1972.

My name is Everett Alan Stringer, but I am better known by the nickname “Pud.”  (Maybe you remember the beanie‑wearing, pudgy-cheeked Double‑Bubble gum‑popping cartoon character of the 1950’s!)  I own Stringer Dairy, LLC, in the New Hope community fifteen miles southwest of Columbia, Mississippi.  There, my wife Peggy and I raised two children, April and Dustin.  Peggy, who had also been raised working a dairy and was very active in Farm Bureau, passed in 2010.  Two years later I met Lucy from Vicksburg on a mission trip in Honduras.  When we married, my family expanded by the addition of her two children, Brooke and Drew.  Together we have ten grandchildren.

For as long as I can remember, the activities of my life have revolved around dairy farming.  My father, Everett Stringer, started dairying in the early 1950’s, and as soon as I could feed a calf or drive a tractor using only the hand clutch (since I was too small to touch the pedals), I began working daily on the dairy.  I became a partner with him in 1972 when I bought my first thirty dairy cows through an order buyer with Farm Bureau.  (How this got me accused of skyjacking is another story for another day.)

We remained partners until his passing in 2001, and I continued dairying at the family farm.

 

At the beginning of our partnership, Marion County had over 100 dairies supporting families and producing quality milk for Mississippi.  Today, milk has to be brought into Mississippi from across the United States, for fewer than 100 dairies remain in the entire state of Mississippi.  With the closing of Stringer Dairy on that November day, the number shrank by one more.  Yet farming will always be a part of my life.  I still have some cattle and timber, and with that there is always fence to fix, hay to bale, pastures to plant, and repairs to be done.  But at 64, I realize that one day that too will pass.

The future of farming is in the strong hands of our younger farmers.  I am proud to be part of the Farm Bureau family because it promotes young farmers.  They face many challenges, one of which is the consumer’s perception of farming and farmers.  Very few consumers understand what farm life is really about.  We love the land; we desire to improve what the Lord has blessed us with; and we strive to produce the safest, highest‑quality foods in the world at an affordable price.  However, those who have not been raised on or worked on farms are unaware of the work and the expense required of farmers to accomplish these goals.  When consumers put a $3.83 gallon of milk into their refrigerator, most envision a cow placidly grazing a pasture that turns green (and remains

green all winter) thanks to the sun and the rain.  All the farmer has to do is inherit the land.  Repairing tractors, disking, purchasing seed, planting seed, repairing tractors, irrigating, fertilizing, fencing, repairing fence, buying feed, cutting hay, raking hay, baling hay, repairing tractors, making balage, wrapping bales,  transporting bales, repairing tractors, washing lots, cleaning equipment, passing inspection, paying land taxes, leasing pasture, …these daily realities for the farmer are, for the most part, unknown to many consumers.  Nor do they realize that less than half of that $3.83 they paid goes to the farmer and that from his share he has to deduct all these costs of production.

I am proud of the Farm Families of Mississippi image campaign and the message it is providing for our state, but we farmers must also educate consumers locally of what it takes to get food to their table.  At some point, consumers must realize that farmers must be able to make a living from their valuable service.  We must encourage more young adults to pursue a career in the world’s most crucial industry.   Together, we can keep Mississippi’s farms productive and viable.  I thank God for giving me a part in His original occupation for mankind:  agriculture.