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Officials Urge Dairy Farmers To Enroll In Revised Dairy Margin Protection Program

Dairy cow
WAMC/Pat Bradley

The Dairy Margin Protection Program was authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill as a risk management program. It pays farmers when the difference between the price they are paid for milk produced at the farm and the cost of feed, or margin, falls below a set amount. But many dairy farmers, especially in the Northeast, said the program was expensive and didn’t work.  And that is causing concern as officials try to get dairy producers to sign up for the revised program by June 1st.  Vermont officials were at the Statehouse in Montpelier Tuesday to urge farmers to sign up.According to the USDA, Congress made changes to the Margin Protection Program, or MPP, in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 based on feedback from dairy farmers.  They have until June 1st to sign up for the revised program.    On Tuesday in Montpelier, Vermont U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy emphasized the changes made in the program will benefit producers.  "Any Vermont farm that does not enroll its first 5 million pounds in the MPP, they’re going to be leaving money on the table. Now we must get over the distrust hurdle with this program. This is a new and improved Margin Protection Program. I fought very hard in both the Agriculture Committee and the Appropriations Committee to remake MPP.  We made the new MPP more responsive to the market. We cut premiums by 70 percent to make it more affordable.”

Vermont Governor Phil Scott encouraged farmers to do the math and consider whether the improved MPP will benefit their bottom line.  He also announced that the new state budget includes money to help farmers pay premium costs.  “To help support farmers with some of the costs of the program my administration and legislative leaders allotted state dollars for the program. Working with the agriculture committees Vermont is ready to invest $450,000 towards this program. These state dollars will help dairy farmers pay for the premiums.  Every dairy farmer in Vermont could get support. This will be at least $660 or higher depending on how many enroll before June 1 and through this program could leverage thousands of dollars in it for these farmers if they enroll.”

The governor cited data that more than 700 dairy farmers contribute $2.2 billion annually to the state’s economy with 6,000 to 7,000 jobs, creating more than $360 million in wages.
Independent Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders praised the state for committing funds to enhance the program and help what he called the backbone of Vermont agriculture.  "Nearly 300 dairy farms have gone out of business in the last decade. And what’s happening now to Vermont dairy should be of concern not only to farmers but to everybody in the state of Vermont.  Unfortunately for too many Vermont farmers it is harder and harder to maintain the farm and too many are forced out of business.  And to my mind what we have today is a program that could be of help.  So I would urge farmers in the state of Vermont to get in touch with their local FSA (Farm Service Agency) office to determine whether the changes in the MPP can help their farms.”

Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts noted that as of last Tuesday about a third of the dairy farmers  in the state had registered and that’s why there is a push to get them signed up by the Friday deadline.  “We’re just saying look don’t look at the past. Look at the future. Some economists have looked at this and you can do the math on this and you can see the possibility of return on it.  So I think our message is don’t forget about Friday.  Really look at it. It could help your farm.”

Although he has vetoed the state budget, Governor Scott  believes the $450,000 will not be a point of contention and noted the money won’t be needed until September.   State Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Democrat Bobby Starr says participants could receive between 7 and 10 thousand dollars from the program.  While it isn’t a lot in a farm’s budget, he says it will make a difference.  “When you have to buy seeds, fertilizer, fuel for your equipment it could very well make the difference between getting crops in the ground and having feed next winter, or not putting crops in the ground and selling out come fall. And you know we’ve already lost too many farms already and our rural economy is really hurting because of that. You know it’s gotten to the point where we’re losing children in our schools and even churches are having a hard time. And it’s our rural economy and our dairy economy that keeps that all going.”

New York Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball also urged New York dairy farmers to sign up for the Margin Protection Program.  In a press release issued Tuesday, Ball says: “The changes made by USDA this year are a major improvement and almost guarantee farmers will receive financial relief…”

Audio is courtesy of Vermont Digger.

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