by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
In a press conference on May 15, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and specifically USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, to “do the right thing” in providing direct financial assistance to dairy farmers.
Gillibrand, who is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said many people have been informed that dairy farmers are under a lot of stress and are suffering.
“New York’s dairy farmers have been suffering for too long,” said Gillibrand. “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.”
The Senator pointed out that this is impacting local communities and New York State as a whole.
“Dairy farmers have always been at the heart of New York’s rural economy, but more than 1,200 dairy farms in New York have just shut down in the last decade and many more are on the brink of failing.”
According to the USDA, those 1,200 dairy farms represented nearly 20 percent of dairy farms in New York State.
Gillibrand quoted one dairy farmer as saying, “It’s stressful. Do I want to wake up and lose $30,000 a day?”
“Imagine the pain our dairy farmers and their families suffer when they wake up before dawn every day, without a break, and they still can’t make ends meet. Imagine the heartbreak and the depression of the last dairy farmer in the family, the one who has to sell the farm that the family has worked on for generations. This is a crisis right in our own back yard. We need to solve it — now!”
Gillibrand said this is an urgent priority and cannot wait for the next Farm Bill to provide relief for dairy farmers.
“Today I’m calling on the USDA to immediately provide financial assistance to our dairy producers. I’m asking for $300 million dollars, 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.”
Gillibrand believes this move should be made without contemplation by other constituents.
“I want Secretary Perdue to do this all by himself. He just did it this year for cotton farmers. And that’s why we ask for the same amount he already gave the cotton farmers.”
She also considers that the cotton industry is “literally 10 percent of the dairy industry in terms of size,” and that cotton is a product that may be stored, which fluid milk obviously is not.
“He (Perdue) really should do the right thing by our dairy farmers,” Gillibrand stated, commenting also that she has already spoken to Perdue about this previously when he came in front of the Agriculture Committee. She said she will reach out to him again by phone.
Gillibrand encourages farmers to continue to tell their stories and to bring attention to their Senators and Representatives.
“The only way anything ever works in Washington is when regular people stand up and demand it. I’ve heard from dairy farmers from all over our state about this crisis and I urge Secretary Perdue to listen to them, too. The USDA should do the right thing and give our dairy farmers the help they need now!”
Gillibrand said she has read many stories in local newspapers about dairy farmers now living in poverty, not having money to pay bills, and worried about having to close their farms and sell to the highest bidder.
“I’ve heard stories of depression and suicide among dairy farmers, and to me that’s just outrageous. These are the heart and soul of our rural communities. We should be doing everything we can on the Federal level to support them.”
Gillibrand said she believes each dairy farmer, on average in New York State, would get about $8,000 dollars in with their milk checks, without having to fill out applications. It would be direct grant money for emergency relief.
“We would just put the money right into that milk check, and so you wouldn’t even have to have an application, it would just go directly — and that’s similar to what they did for the cotton farmers.”
“I want this emergency funding to go directly to the farmers who need it,” said Gillibrand. “So their farms can keep running and they can keep producing milk without going bankrupt.”
Gillibrand said she is introducing two bills for the Farm Bill, one to reimburse dairy farmers for premium payments paid into the Margin Protection Program / dairy insurance, which she said does not work, due to being poorly designed, and a second bill to “fix the plan going forward,” to make sure that there actually is an insurance plan that would be effective for dairy farmers.
“I will keep doing everything I can on the Agriculture Committee to finally bring relief to our farmers,” Gillibrand said.
Dairy farmers should contact USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue with their concerns at U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20002.