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Senator Gillibrand reintroduces dairy bill in advance of Farm Bill negotiations

Dairy cow in field
Pat Bradley
Dairy cow in field

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has announced her dairy policy priorities in advance of the upcoming Farm Bill negotiations.

Gillibrand noted that with nearly 3,500 dairy farmers, the state is the fifth-largest producer of milk in the nation and the largest producer of yogurt and cheese. But the Democrat says dairy farmers struggle because of the complicated and outdated method of setting dairy prices and a web of other challenges that spiked over the past few years.

“During the pandemic prices rose for everything from labor and fuel to corn and the soy used for feed. And dramatic changes in demand meant that milk producers were forced to dump gallons of milk even while many dairy farmers were unable to benefit from booming cheese prices. More recently a trade dispute with Canada has left many farmers unable to benefit from expanded market access opportunities. These difficulties have compounded already existing challenges such as the growing impact of climate change and the inability of small family farms to compete with mega-producers.”

The amount dairy farmers are paid for their milk is set by a federal milk marketing system, which Gillibrand characterizes as “one of the most complicated and out-of-date economic systems in our nation...” As Congress prepares to debate the 2023 Farm Bill, she is reintroducing what she calls the Dairy Pricing Opportunity Act.

“Dairy farmers play a central role in New York state’s economy. They shouldn’t struggle to get by just because the milk pricing system we use hasn’t been reformed in any major way for the last 20 years. Last Congress I introduced a bill, a Dairy Pricing Opportunity Act, to start the process of reevaluating the federal dairy pricing system and give farmers more of a voice in the process. And I’ll be re-introducing it to help give dairy farmers the ability to price their products in a way that meets their needs. It will be an important step in making sure the federal dairy pricing formula compensates dairy farmers fairly.”

The proposal would require the federal Department of Agriculture to hold hearings to review the milk pricing system with input from dairy farmers. New York Farm Bureau Deputy Public Policy Director Lauren Williams says it would help to have hearings in which dairy farmers could provide direct input on pricing.

“It’s been over 30 years since we’ve seen any type of major reform to the federal orders. One of the bigger items, and this was a change in the last Farm Bill, was the Class 1 price of milk. That’s something we typically refer to as fluid milk and they changed that. And our folks after going through COVID saw that that change wasn’t really helpful. So they would like to go back to what was pre-2018 Farm Bills. But also looking at just having hearings and having USDA collect better data and information on how producers may face a payment for how milk is produced.”

The Farm Bill is updated every five years and includes provisions related to agriculture, nutrition and food assistance programs such as SNAP, conservation and rural development.

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