The current milk price has spurred many dairy farmers into action, getting them more involved in how their milk is marketed. A group of dairymen from western N.Y. and several even from Pennsylvania, met to discuss the Federal Milk Marketing Improvement Act of 2009 last week, at a dairy rally held in N.Y.
A group of more than 150 dairy farmers, their family members, a handful of local officials, farmer union leaders and Congressman Eric Massa, D-29, addressed the audience and talked about the act. The proposed legislation, brought forward by Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa, and Sen. Robert Casey Jr., D-Pa., would change the amount farmers are paid for milk to the national average cost of production, eliminate reference to the Chicago Mercantile exchange in determining milk prices paid to dairy farmers and encourage new dairy farmers to produce milk by allowing them to be exempt from inventory management costs in their first year, among other things.
“This will provide a floor under the price of milk that will keep a majority of our dairy farmers in business, give them an opportunity to pay their bills and have an extremely modest level of income,” said Larry Breech, president of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union.
Breech said there is tremendous amount of opposition to the legislation, but it insists that dairy farmers all of the country will begin closing if some governmental action is not taken.
“Dairy co-ops have miserably failed to represent their members and that’s why we are at the pint we are at now,” he said.
“Right now dairy farmers have seen a 47 percent drop in the prices they were getting last year and we have to get them some short-term relief immediately,” said Arden Tewksbury, manager of the Progressive Agriculture Organization.
“There are many farms that are going to be closing soon. People argue the number is as high as 25 or 35 percent,” he said.
Dairy farmers at the rally said they are getting as low as $10 to $12 a hundredweight, an amount they say doesn’t even cover operation costs.
A study by Cornell University estimated that farmers need to be paid at least $17 per hundredweight to cover production expenses.
“Because we have married ourselves to a free trade system that gives everything away and does not protect our consumers the international market collapsed and here we are sitting on huge surpluses,” Massa said. “By the way, you saw the price of milk at the producer drop by 50 percent, but we never saw the price of milk in retail drop that much. Now, somebody is making a hell of a lot of money, and candidly, it is not much different then we saw in the petroleum industry. The price of crude went from, what was it, $140? To $50 a barrel and yet the prices at the pump did not drop that same ratio.”