New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand this afternoon called on the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to authorize $300 million in emergency relief funding for dairy farmers.
According to the USDA monthly milk production report issued on April 23rd, New York dairy farmers received $15.60 per hundredweight for raw milk, down $3.50 from January 2017. The historically low dairy prices are translating to increased debt and Senator Gillibrand says it’s also leading to more farm closures. "Milk prices are so low that our dairy farmers are losing money on every pound of milk they produce no matter how hard they work. This is hurting our local communities and our state. Dairy farmers have always been at the heart of New York’s rural economy. But more than 1200 dairy farms in New York have just shut down in the last decade and many more are on the brink of failing."
The Democrat says the USDA has the authority to provide direct financial assistance to struggling agricultural sectors. She is calling on Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to release emergency funding to dairy farms. “This is a crisis right in our own back yard. We can’t wait until the next Farm Bill to give our dairy farmers relief. I’m asking for $300 million which is the exact same amount that the USDA used for cotton farmers in the South when their prices dropped earlier this year. The USDA should treat our dairy producers the same way. I want this emergency funding to go directly to the farmers who need it so their farms can keep running and they can keep producing milk without going bankrupt.”
New York’s junior senator expects each dairy farm to receive several thousand dollars if the agriculture secretary agrees to release the money. “We believe that each dairy farmer on average would get about $8,000 in New York state. It would be direct money, direct grant money for emergency relief.”
Agrimark dairy economist Bob Wellington has not seen Senator Gilibrand’s request to the USDA but notes that dairy farmers are in the fourth year of depressed prices that are not covering production costs. “They need something that’s going to work to try to keep milk prices at a decent level. And I think for most farms right now they need milk to get back above $20 a hundredweight and at least for some sustained period of time. And they haven’t seen that since 2014. So I mean you’ve got to find a way to have the money come out of the marketplace. We are looking at some ideas on how to do that. But any ideas we do in regards to that is not going to result in substantially more income to farmers in the next few months. But any help they could get I know they need and would be appreciated.”
Wellington says many dairy farms are losing $10,000 or more per month. A hundredweight of milk is equal to 11.6 gallons.