U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand is urging Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to help dairy farmers withstand an ongoing financial crisis by issuing emergency funds as soon as possible.
“This is a crisis right in our own backyard and we need to solve it now,” Sen. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said during a conference call Tuesday. “New York dairy farmers have been suffering for too long. Milk prices are so low that dairy farmers are losing money for every pound of milk they produce.”
Dairy farmers nationwide have experienced a decline in earnings in recent years as rising milk production from several countries has caused a glut in the international market.
Northeast farmers have been enduring a fourth year of low milk prices. According to the Federal Milk Order, farmers’ milk in the Northeast received an average statistical uniform price of $15.46 per hundredweight in April, down from the $17.44 per hundredweight average price for last year and the $15.90 per hundredweight average price in 2016.
“I’ve heard from dairy farmers all across the state about this crisis,” Sen. Gillibrand said. “I’ve heard stories of depression and suicide among our dairy farmers, and it outrages me.”
In order to provide immediate assistance, the senator wants the U.S. Department of Agriculture to authorize $300 million in emergency relief funding for dairy farmers.
Sen. Gillibrand said the funding would replicate a similar allocation Mr. Perdue previously provided to cotton farmers. She also said she believed $300 million for dairy farmers, which they would receive through their milk checks, would be enough to provide the average farm $8,000 in assistance.
“USDA should treat our dairy farmers the same way” as cotton farmers, she said. “The cotton industry is literally 10 percent of the dairy industry in terms of size.”
Lisbon dairy farmer Blake P. Gendebien applauded the senator’s effort, but said an average $8,000 allocation from the overall $300 million wouldn’t provide enough help for ailing farmers.
The $8,000 allocation would provide an average farmer 16 cents per hundredweight in relief, but Mr. Gendebien, who serves on Agri-Mark’s board of directors, said farmers earn $3 to $4 per hundredweight below the cost of production.
“Her heart is in the right place, but the impact will not be large enough,” he said. “It will be well-received, but it won’t be significant enough to have an impact on whether a farm remains open or not.”
Sen. Gillibrand has made other efforts in the past few months to support for dairy farmers by proposing a new “price floor” policy and calling for the federal government to reimburse farmers who paid more money than they received from the Margin Protection Program.
The senator’s office also said in a background statement that she asked Mr. Perdue to “hold a ‘pre-hearing procedure’ to examine alternative milk pricing formulas that would make the milk pricing system simpler,” a request she included in the 2014 Farm Bill Committee report.
Mr. Gendebien said he hopes federal lawmakers like Sen. Gillibrand will preserve trade relationships with Canada and Mexico and encourage policy that can open opportunities for U.S. dairy farmers to export products to consumers in northern Africa and southeastern Asia.
“If we lose those (existing) relations, anything we do to the MPP and Federal Milk Order will pale in comparison,” he said.