'We're absolutely lost': Falling prices, health issues force small southern Minn. dairy farming family to sell 55-year operation
LE CENTER, Minn. — Lloyd Tiede never cries.
"I have never seen my Dad cry besides when his father passed away," said Adrianna Tiede, Lloyd's daughter.
But in a phone call with his daughter Thursday, Sept. 13, Tiede, 55, simply couldn't hold back the tears any longer. And neither could she.
"I could tell right when I picked up the phone that it wasn't good news," Adrianna said. "I answered and it was quiet on the other end."
For Adrianna, the silence was telling, perhaps even more than words.
"No, not yet," Adrianna said before her father even spoke a word.
"Yes, the cows are going Monday and the last milking will be that night," Tiede said.
After nearly five years of deliberating, Tiede broke the news to his family he long dreaded. After 55 years in business, Tiede's Le Center family dairy farm was shutting down.
"I immediately broke into tears and I could hear my Dad crying on the other end," Adrianna said.
For Tiede, the emotional decision to sell the farm was a few years in the making. Ultimately, financial straints and health issues played a major role in the decision.
"My Dad has been saying for the past five years that he was going to sell the cows," she said. "But each year we'd still have them."
In over 30 years of dairy farming, Tiede never took a vacation. On April 16, 1993, Tiede married his wife, Diane. They never went on a honeymoon. Being a dairy farmer was his life. Seven days a week, 365 days a year. No paid holidays, no weekends off. Before opening presents on Christmas mornings, Tiede could be found in the barn doing chores and milking cows, Adrianna said.
"The cows got taken care of before my family," Tiede said.
In more ways than one, Tiede personifies the rural American farmer.
A third-generation dairy farmer, he and his family have been raising, grooming and milking cows on their southern Minnesota dairy farm since he was born. Le Center is a quaint farm town located about 60 miles southwest of Minneapolis.
Jim Tiede, Lloyd's father, bought the farm in 1963 and the family has been farming it ever since. Prior to Jim's death in 2006, Tiede was milking 72 cows and maintaining a few alfalfa fields for feed, mostly by himself. Prior to selling, Tiede was down to just 24 milk cows.
He'd get leant a helping hand from his five children when they could, but as many of them grew older and moved away, Tiede was primarily a one-man operation in his recent years.
Then, in 2017, on top of suffering through continued annual dairy market declines and a depleted cattle count, Tiede suffered a health scare that nearly killed him.
"A year ago I was carrying a baby calf in the barn early in the morning and I dropped to my knees," Tiede said. "I stayed there for a while and my chest was hurting."
After initially deciding to forgo a doctor's visit, Tiede was urged by former classmates at a class reunion that weekend to go into the hospital and get the chest pain checked out.
"Monday after milking, I went to the doctor and he said I had 90 percent blockage," Tiede said.
The result was near-fatal heart attack.
"They call it the widowmaker," Tiede said.
In today's harsh dairy farming landscape, the little guys, like Tiede, are facing challenges like they've never seen before.
On Tuesday, Sept. 18, milk prices were trading at $16.12. In 2014, when the demand for milk was at an all-time high, prices frequently hovered around the $24 mark. On Sept. 18, 2014, milk prices peaked at a staggering $24.51 per 100 pounds.
With operating costs steadily on the rise and the price of milk falling, smaller dairy farms are continuing to fold throughout Minnesota because they simply can't turn a profit.
"The dairy pays its bills," Tiede said. "It pays your day-to-day expenses and it pays your interest each month at the bank, but what do you have left in your pocket? Then you have to go to the bank and ask for more money."
For Tiede, the decision to sell was, unfortunately, an inevitable one.
Along with fledgling milk prices, industrial-scale dairy farms in the state continue to flex their muscle, flooding the market with milk at a rate the little guys simply can't match.
Louriston Dairy in Murdock, Minn., for example, runs a dairy operation that is nearly 40 times bigger than the average U.S. dairy farm. The Murdock farm sits about 18 miles west of Willmar and is home to 9,500 cows. Louriston Dairy is just one leg of the broader operation, however. The farm is run by Riverview LLP, a Morris, Minn.-based firm that owns approximately 92,000 milk cows throughout nine different dairy operations in the state.
How could dairy farmers like Tiede ever keep up with an operation like Louriston Dairy? Simply put, they can't, he says.
"These big corporations, they don't care if they don't make money for 10 years," Tiede said.
'We're absolutely lost'
On Monday, Sept. 10, Tiede looked on as the first trailer full of cows were hauled away after being sold at auction. By his side that day was most of his immediate family, which includes his wife, Diane, four daughters and one son, who made the trip to the family farm to say one last goodbye to the only thing their family's ever known.
The emotional moments were captured on video by Adrianna and have since gone viral after she posted them to her Facebook page Monday. Since being posted by Adrianna on Monday, a somber video of Tiede has been viewed on Facebook over a million times. Another video showing the cattle being taken away in a trailer has been viewed nearly 250,000 times.
"Fifty-five years ... it started with my Dad, then I went with my children, and I even got two with a grandson," Tiede said in the video as he held back tears. "It's gone ... it'll never be back."
As for work, Tiede says he's uncertain how he's going to make ends meet. Dairy farming is all he's ever known. He has no pension, no 401K, no savings, and the sale of the farm won't be enough to cover outstanding debts, he says.
Despite that, not having to tend to the cows on a constant basis is a notion that Tiede's family is looking forward to, they say.
"Not having the cows will allow him to go to sporting events and other things," said Adrianna.
Though nearly empty now, the barn that once housed his family's livelihood is now just a somber memory for Tiede.
"I've walked into the barn every morning since Monday and I've yet to not cry," said Tiede.
"You look at my dogs and my cats and they're like 'what's going on?'
"We're absolutely lost."