California/Arizona: Fred Machado ends 40 years in California dairy industry

By Ron Goble

EASTON, Calif. – The Machado Dairy is quiet now, except for a few hundred young heifers still being fed at the nearly vacant facility.

No longer are cows being fed and milked at Fred Machado’s dairy farm southwest of Easton in Fresno County.

“We were losing a lot of money every month and we needed to make a choice,” explained Machado. “We either had to get out of the dairy business, or go to the bank and borrowed $1 million against our land that we worked so hard to pay for over the years. Looking down the road, I couldn’t really see any light at the end of the tunnel, knowing what the situation was in the dairy industry.

So my wife, Maxine, our son Arthur and our daughter Kathi, set down at our kitchen table and made the hard decision to sell our cows. That was December 2008.”

Soon after that family meeting, Machado submitted a bid in the first CWT program of 2009 and it was accepted.

Machados still maintain their dairy facility with the hope of leasing it out when things turn around in the industry. They sent about 900 cows to slaughter, but kept approximately 550 heifers that Fred will eventually sell over time.

“We have a very good facility. We don’t have freestalls, but the corals are in good condition and everything else is up to date,” Machado said.

The dairyman diversified early in his dairy career so he had options. He bought numerous parcels of land near the dairy and in 1996 began to develop his acreage. Today, in addition to farming 100 acres of winter forage and corn for the animals, he and his family farm 240 acres of wine and raisin grapes, and 350 acres of almonds.

Machado said everything they have developed over the years is a tribute to the hard work of his entire family. He and Maxine have been married 52 years and have included their children in the farming enterprise. Kathi handles the business office for the farm and the dairy. Her husband, Paul Woodward handles the farming and Arthur Machado has management responsibility for the overall farming and dairy operations.

Machado spent his earliest years in the Azores where he started milking cows when he was 8 years old. When Joe Machado returned to America in 1949 with his family, Fred was 16.

He and his father started working on a Fresno area dairy as milkers. “My father didn’t want to milk cows, so we picked grapes, picked cotton, chopped cotton – you name it we did it,” Machado recalled.

“My father didn’t like farming or dairying. During World War II Joe had worked in the steel industry here and wanted to return to that. Eventually, he was hired by Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel Company where he worked for 30 years until he retired.”

When the Korean War came along, Fred joined the U.S. Navy. “When I got out of the service in 1955, I wanted to farm, so I rented 40 acres and started growing alfalfa and cotton. The owner eventually sold me the land for nothing down and 30 years to pay,” said Machado. “That was our start and we’re still living on and farming the same ground today.”

By the time Machado started the dairy in 1970, he was farming 1,000 acres of alfalfa, corn, cotton, and sugar beets on land that he either owned or rented. “I was selling alfalfa for $18/ton and toward the end of my dairy career I was paying $270/ton.

“In the early years, Maxine and the kids would be changing irrigation lines in the row crops while I was taking care of the cows and doing the rest of the farming,” Machado said. “We started the dairy with 50 Holstein cows, milked in a side-opener parlor – three cows in front of each other on each side of the pit.”

Six years later, Machado built a new double-10 herringbone milking barn and once that was up and running he remodeled his old parlor into a double-9 herringbone.

Before he was done, Machado was milking 1,500 cows 2X with a total 3,800 including heifers, bulls and dry stock. Rolling herd average was about 21,000 lbs. with 700 lbs. butterfat. His herd averaged about 70 lbs. per cow per day.

“The dairy industry was good for a long time. It had its ups and downs, but never like it is now. When milk went to $9/cwt and hay at $270/ton there was no way to be profitable,” the dairyman said.

“Of course, we’ve got a world economy that went sour. But we’ve wrecked the dairy business in our own country ourselves. And what wrecked the dairy business is greed,” he declared. “I think a 2,000-cow dairy is reasonable today. But when you build 10,000- or 20,000-cow dairies, you’re asking for trouble.

“The huge dairies producing rivers of milk that they can’t get rid of only think about getting bigger, but they have no clue what they are going to do with the end product.”

Machado said his cooperative was expanding when they didn’t have the capacity. They were dumping milk and then assessing the membership to pay for their mistakes.

“Everybody is expanding without thinking of the consequences. The sad thing is that a lot of good dairy producers are going to be out of business as a result. And I don’t see much changing in the next few years.”

Machado, now 77, was honored recently as the “2009 Agriculturist of the Year” by the Greater Fresno Area Chamber of Commerce.

Machado is well-known in the farming community and has been involved with the Fresno County Farm Bureau for more than 50 years. He has served in several positions, including past president and also has held numerous leadership positions in other agricultural organizations.

He has received numerous honors for his dedication to agriculture and volunteerism, including distinguished service awards from both the Fresno County Farm Bureau and the California Farm Bureau Federation. He also served on the boards of directors of the National Milk Producers Federation, Challenge Dairy and Danish Creamery.

Fred said he plans on taking time to enjoy his grandchildren, do a little traveling, and continue his volunteer work at the Veteran’s Memorial Museum’s Legion of Valor in Fresno. That said, Fred still keeps a hand in the Machado Farms operation.