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Erin Grawe, left, her sister Megan Daluge, right, and their father, Peter Daluge, center, stand near dairy cows at their farm in Janesville.

JANESVILLE

Peter Daluge didn’t expect to get much money from a federal program intended to help farmers affected by tariffs—but he thought he would get more than $1.

Daluge, who operates a 140-cow dairy farm and raises 170 acres of corn and alfalfa south of Janesville, called the $1 payment “somewhat shocking.” He still has a copy of the statement.

The money came from the federal market facilitation program, which allocated $12 billion to American farmers struggling because of increased tariffs on U.S. agricultural products. The U.S. has been mired in a trade war with China for more than a year.

The trade war has exacerbated weak markets for many agricultural commodities. Farmers already were dealing with low prices and oversupply even before retaliatory tariffs took effect.

The $1 payment in October was intended for Daluge’s crops. The family also received a $1,985 payment for the dairy side of the farm.

A second round of payments in December brought the total to about $4,000.

The Daluges lose roughly $4,000 each month on milk production, so the money didn’t stretch far. Peter and his daughters, Megan Daluge and Erin Grawe, are trying to keep a positive outlook.

“You can laugh or you can cry, and we prefer to laugh. I farmed for 40 years myself, and I’ve seen low milk prices. I’ve seen high milk prices,” Peter said. “It’s just the way the market is … although this stretch has been a long stretch of low milk prices, longer than normal.”

Wisconsin farms received about $10 million under the federal program’s first level of payments. Data from the Environmental Working Group show 11 state farms received more than $50,000, including a payment of more than $80,000 to a Kewaunee County dairy.

More than 200 farms received less than $100.

Because most of the family’s 170 acres of crops are used as animal feed, only a tiny portion of what was grown was eligible for tariff relief money—hence the $1 check, Peter said.

The payment was the smallest in the state, according to the data.

“We just kind of laughed about the $1,” Peter said from inside a modest farm office. “Who would’ve known we’d be the lowest-paid in the state? That’s kind of ...”

“First for something,” Erin said.

“Yeah, we got first in something,” Peter continued.

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Peter Daluge holds a form showing a $1 tariff relief payment for the family’s crops Thursday in Janesville. Overall, the family received a total of about $4,000, which covers just one month of milk production losses. A portion of the document showing private information has been obscured at the family’s request.

The number of Wisconsin dairy farms has dwindled over the past several decades. Cows and bull calves sell for a fraction of what they once did, making it tough to even leave the industry, Peter said.

He suggested a quota system could help control the supply of milk, where surplus production would net a lower price at market. That idea likely wouldn’t be popular with some farmers, he said.

The family has no plans to close the farm, but family members admit worrying they might be forced to someday. They love milking cows, and Erin and Megan want their future kids to grow up on the farm.

Their children would be the sixth generation to do so.

To compensate for changes in agriculture, Megan and Erin plan to make the farm an agritourism hub. Local schools will visit in spring for field trips, and the family will host summer camps for kids interested in hands-on work. They also will offer private tours for all ages.

Erin said the family will continue to apply for different farm subsidy programs despite the disappointing returns. If farmers stop applying, the government might stop offering the assistance, she said.

As Peter puts it, the money is “better than a poke in the eye.”

His pragmatic mindset has helped the family remain unflappable.

“Nothing really seems to ruffle his feathers,” Megan said of her father. “He’s always a pretty level-headed, logical thinker. Always thinking ahead for the next step.

“We could sit here and be depressed and complain about getting $1, but instead we’re going to say, ‘We’re going to keep going. We’re going to do what we can to keep this farm going.’”

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