Gary Rasmussen Jr. is a Yooper dairy farmer in Stephenson. He hauled his milk for Dean Foods for 12 years before the company filed for bankruptcy. Just before Thanksgiving, Rasmusen got a letter in the mail that looked a little suspicious.
“It was a very strongly worded letter saying, ‘You owe this money,’ and I thought it was like a credit card debt collector, but it said something about Dean Foods,” he said. “At first I thought this has got to be some sort of a scam. I gave it to my wife and she said, ‘It’s got some really specific things in here.’”
The letter said he either owed Deans $15,000, or he could settle for $5,000. After a quick search, Rasmussen found it was a legitimate law firm sending out these letters to nearly 500 producers. His deadline to pay is December 19, so he had to get an attorney quickly.
“[My attorney] about fell over when I told him I have to go after Deans,” said Rasmussen. “[He said he’d] send off a couple emails and go from there, so that’s where we’re at.”
American Farm Bureau sent a letter to the law firm managing the Dean Foods estate, threatening legal action if they don’t withdraw the letters. Rasmussen said that he and other dairy farmers across the country have to prove they’re actually dairy farmers.
“This is not a typical bankruptcy because you’re dealing with a perishable food item—this isn’t a warehouse filled with widgets you can sell off,” he said. “Deans does have a lot of expenses they need to cover and a lot of things they need to pay for—unfunded liability. I don’t know where [they’re] going to get the money, and I’m hoping not to pay anything on it.”
Right now, Rasmussen is in a wait-and-see mode. He doesn’t believe this situation is nefarious, rather a misunderstanding with people who don’t understand agriculture.
We’ll bring you more details as they develop.