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Senator Kirsten Gillibrand sponsors bill that would compel USDA to hold hearings on federal dairy pricing system

Dairy cow in field
Pat Bradley
Dairy cow in field

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced this week she is co-sponsoring a bill that would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to hold hearings to review the federal dairy pricing system.

Dairy farmers are paid for their milk based on the federal Milk Marketing Order. Its sets prices based on whether the milk is fluid or processed, such as cheese, curd, or powder. The price calculation for Class One, or fluid milk, was changed in the 2018 Farm Bill. In September New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, chair of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, Poultry, Local Food Systems, and Food Safety and Security, held hearings on modernizing the dairy pricing system. Testimony indicated that the current pricing system does not cover the cost of production nor does it adequately compensate small family farms competing against mega-producers.

Gillibrand, a Democrat, says she concluded that due to those and other inadequacies the 2018 pricing formula must be reevaluated.

“The Dairy Pricing Opportunity Actwould direct the USDA to start the process of holding federal Milk Marketing Orders hearings within six months. If we wait for USDA to act on its own our farmers will have to wait long for relief. Those hearings will give farmers the opportunity to have a voice on how Class I milk should be priced. It’s critical that the USDA hear directly from farmers about the challenges that they’re facing including how the current formula affects them.”

Senator Gillibrand says she has been frustrated with the Farm Bill process and for at least a decade has wanted to renegotiate how the federal government sets dairy prices.

“This at least is a bipartisan start well in advance of the Farm Bill to get direct testimony from farmers across the country about what they want and what might work. Basically almost all the reforms over the last 10 years that I’ve been on the Ag Committee have had good intentions but haven’t worked. The things that our dairy farms need in New York state have not been taken seriously enough by the Farm Bill writing process and that’s very frustrating. And so I think this process gives the power to the farmer to be heard and hopefully our dairy farms can come up with some better ways to do milk pricing.”

Gillibrand said the September hearing set in motion an idea to gather input on how to revamp the entire dairy pricing system.

“I’ve been asking our farmers for a long time if you could start from scratch and change how we price milk what would you do? And no one’s ever really pushed them on that to say literally if you could start from scratch what would you do? We really need to start from scratch because the way we price dairy in this country is so convoluted. I mean we shouldn’t be pricing the cost of fluid milk on the price of cheese in Chicago. It’s just dumb. So we need a new way and this is a start on coming up with some good ideas at least on Class I milk.”

The Dairy Pricing Opportunity Act is co-sponsored by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy and Maine Republican Susan Collins.

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