COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Got milk? How about cheese? If so, chances are it started its way to your kitchen from one of Ohio’s 2,200 dairy farms.

According to Mechanicsburg farmer Mark Hoewischer, Ohio’s dairy industry is struggling back from the effects of a volatile market and two years of a pandemic.

“The question you ask yourself every day now is, ‘Should I retire or should I keep going,” said Hoewischer, who is attending this week’s Ohio State Fair in Columbus.

His dairy herd is a little larger thanks to a well-attended birth this week in the Dairy Barn at the State Fair.

Ohio has more than 263,000 dairy cows producing 650 million gallons of milk a year. However, prices fluctuate dramatically, and demand from restaurants and schools plunged drastically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s hard,” Hoewischer said. “I’ve done it for 51 years. It was hard. My cows are my 401K, and overnight, my 401K was cut in half.”

And coming out of the pandemic, he was hit hard by inflation.

“A year ago last March, I filled my diesel fuel tank for my tractors — $1,500,” Hoewischer said. “Filled it this March — $3,200. Filled it about three weeks ago — $5,400. I don’t get any more out of it. I will burn it just as fast.”

Nearly every dairy farm in Ohio is family-owned. Hoewischer said he has 10 grandchildren, but he can’t expect them to try to raise a family on the income dairy farmers earn now.

During the economic downturn, he stopped taking a salary.

“I paid myself to do this,” Hoewischer said. “Most people wouldn’t do that, but dairy farmers will do it.”

Ohio is 11th in the nation in milk production, but first in the production of Swiss cheese. Hoewischer said prices right now are at a good spot, but that costs are up.