by Sally Colby
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) says one of the most important jobs she does as senator for New York is the work she does on the Senate Agriculture Committee. She praises the state for its abundant resources and products, including vegetables, fruits, barley for brewers, and milk and dairy products.
Gillibrand noted that the state’s ag products are sold not only in the state, but around the country and the world. “We need to make sure our agriculture community — our farmers and producers — are getting the treatment they deserve and the protection they need,” she said. “Unfortunately, right now, our dairy farmers are in the midst of a serious financial slump through no fault of their own. Milk prices are now much lower than the cost it takes farmers to produce that milk. They are so low that some of our dairy farmers aren’t making enough money to keep operating. They struggle to pay their workers and bills, and are barely are making enough money back from milk sales to pay for feed for their cows.”
Every dairy farmer knows that dairy pricing is cyclical, with expected highs and lows, but the drops during recent cycles have been unreasonably low. “The federal government has traditionally provided a safety net for our dairy farmers that would prevent them from going bankrupt when prices go down,” said Gilllibrand. “The 2014 Farm Bill created a new insurance program for dairy farmers called the Dairy Margin Protection Program (MPP), which was supposed to help our dairy farmers in situations like this.”
As she traveled throughout New York visiting farms and talking with farmers, Gillibrand says dairy farmers made it clear that the Dairy Margin Protection Program is not working. “Not only is the program failing to pay our farmers when they’ve suffered enormous losses because milk prices have dropped so low,” she said, “our farmers were stuck paying into this program for the last two years if they wanted even the most minimal protection; despite the fact that the program barely paid out a dime.”
Noting that New York dairy farmers deserve better and need immediate relief, Gillibrand has drafted legislation that would provide that relief. “My bill is called the Dairy Premium Refund Act,” she explained. “It would return the money to farmers from a program that simply is not working.” Gillibrand added that the millions of dollars paid by farmers to the program are sitting in the U.S. Treasury, and her bill would put that unused money back in the pockets of dairy farmers.
Gillibrand says the dairy pricing situation has been dire for a while, and that the MPP has never worked in the past two years it’s been up and running. Her intent is for dairy farmers to at least receive a refund, but perhaps also bring back some of the MILC (Milk Income Loss Contract) program to have a safety net that would cover some costs.
Although she’s focusing on immediate relief for farmers, Gillibrand doesn’t plan to stop with her bill — she hopes to fix or replace the current dairy insurance program in the upcoming Farm Bill so farmers will have a good working program that provides help when it’s needed. She urges the dairy community to speak out about the need for immediate relief and a fair program. “The only way anything ever changes in Washington is when regular people demand it,” she said. “That’s how this issue came to my attention when I was touring farms around the state, and that is how we will pass this bill.”
Gillibrand cautions that if something isn’t fixed, the United States will have to purchase milk from other countries. “I don’t ever want to buy my milk from China,” she said. “It’s a national security priority that we produce our major agricultural products in America, and we want the price of milk to be low because we want children to get calcium and drink milk every day. There are public policy reasons behind having lower milk prices, but there’s also public policy behind making sure our farmers don’t go out of business.”