Mountain Lake PBS held a forum on the dairy crisis Monday evening, covering how historically low milk prices are impacting farmers. It comes at the same time New York U.S. Senator Kristen Gillibrand announced new legislation aimed at bolstering a safety net that farmers say doesn’t work.
During a conference call Tuesday afternoon, Senator Gillibrand announced her plans to introduce the “Dairy Farm Sustainability Act.” It would create a floor price and trigger payments to farmers when milk prices drop. The Democrat says too many dairy producers are operating below the cost of production and are on the brink of failure. “This is a crisis for our dairy community and Congress needs to fix this problem now and I’m proud to announce that legislation called the “Dairy Farm Sustainability Act” would reinstate and improve the safety net that worked for our farmers for many years. When the price of milk falls below $23 per hundredweight then the Dairy Farm Stability Act would kick in and make up a portion of the difference. It’s a guaranteed minimum price for milk to insure that our farmers don’t go bankrupt every time prices drop. But the Dairy Farm Sustainability Act also goes a step further than previous dairy programs. The $23 mark would be tied to inflation.”
The evening before Gillibrand’s announcement, farmers and coop representatives met in Plattsburgh to participate in a forum on the dairy crisis. Milk prices to dairy farmers have been falling for nearly four years yet operating costs continue to rise. Beekmantown dairy farmer Todd Giroux says the low prices are eating away at any farm equity. “If you’ve got a small family operation rather than be in debt to the bank they say we’re going to quit while we’re behind. But there’s some people who can’t quit while they’re behind because the bank says well as long as I’m getting the interest payment we’ll continue to carry it.”
Duprey Feed and Supply owner Rob Duprey noted that local businesses are also affected by the farmers’ low prices. “When farmers are feeling the pinch we all feel the pinch. We’re doing everything we can as a business to work with them. You know when you’re getting paid below costs it’s impossible to pay your bills. We stay in contact with them and they work with us and in turn we work with them. But it affects your receivables and your cash flow too.”
New York Farm Bureau Vice President Eric Ooms milks 450 cows on his Chatham farm. He feels that while he and other farmers have done a great job of producing product, the problem is supply management. He expects any help from the federal government to be limited. “At the end of the day help we get from Washington will be helpful but it’s not going to change the market dynamics we currently face. It will help on the edges but it’s not going to guarantee profits for people.”
The February the Agri-Mark cooperative sent out its newsletter along with milk checks. It included information on suicide prevention. Vice President Bob Wellington says beyond generating conversation among farmers, it raised awareness about the dairy crisis in the general population. “I think it really brought forth the plight of dairy farming, that we’re going through the fourth bad year, farmers are entirely stressed out. I don’t think politicians realized that. I don’t think the public realized how bad it was. This letter brought that to light. So they’re starting to discuss some uncomfortable realities that are out there.”
The forum will be on air and online at Mountain Lake PBS Friday evening.