Dairy farmers are facing numerous challenges in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic including a loss of markets and falling milk prices. Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York’s 21st district held a call with the district’s dairy farmers on Wednesday to talk about what Washington can do to help.
Schools and restaurants were forced to close as part of the strategy to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. That eliminated key markets for dairy farmers. At the same time the price paid to those producers fell below the cost of production.
As she began the roundtable on dairy issues Congresswoman Stefanik said she and her office have been working to help the dairy sector. “My office has been very focused on making sure that our dairy farms have access to many of the programs that we passed in the CARES Act. I raised our agricultural issues with the President at the roundtable that I participated with at the White House to make sure that he continues to hear the perspective of our North Country dairy farms.”
15th District Pennsylvania Congressman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson, a fellow Republican, is a member of the House Agriculture Committee. He says dairy has been under stress since 2010. “This virus has obviously has taken a bad situation, or one that was we were starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel when it came to hundredweight prices. Unfortunately about the time where we saw that light at the end of the tunnel we saw this virus hit. So the administration was able to basically designate $16 billion to support our farmers across all commodity groups across the United States.”
New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher says the federal moves are appreciated but time will tell just how much it will help the dairy industry. “I think it’s going to be really important to get flexibility for people who have not used the program especially some of our small specialty crop people. They’d be able to sign up and get help and get money because there’s not time to wait for USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) to go through these 1026’s and all that stuff that usually takes a year or two for them to get through.”
Details of the bills were discussed along with issues such as revising the H2A foreign worker visa program, production insurance and trade. Farmer Jay Madison says dairy farmers need reimbursement for milk dumping during the pandemic. “That was not something they chose to do. It was something that happened because of the disaster and we need to try and find a way to make them whole on that as best we possibly can.”
Jefferson County farmer Ron Robbins called from the middle of a field saying he is hopeful that Farm Service Agency aid will be delivered smoothly. “In our county we’re starting to look at what’s the next five years going to look like here after this? And what do we need to do to position ourselves as an industry to remain viable and profitable? So you know while all eyes are focused on the short term here I think we’re trying to step out a little bit here in Jefferson County and start to think about the longer term implications here and what we need to do to position ourselves.”
Madison told the congressional representatives that more processing capacity is needed across the region. “We need more USDA meat processing capacity here in the Northeast especially here in New York state. Also in New York 21 we make a lot of milk, more than our local dairy manufacturers can utilize. So if we want to help the dairy industry here in this district one of the best things we can do is try to attract more dairy processing capacity and work to help those plants that are already here.”
Congresswoman Stefanik’s website includes updates on programs for dairy farmers and eligibility.