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Don’t answer dairy farmers with rhetoric

September 6, 2018 12:36 am

It may come as a surprise to dairy farmers in the small rural counties of Greene and Columbia counties that they are caught in the eye of a hurricane over tensions between the United States and Canada.

Sadly, the tensions are created by the very nations that should be the dairy farmers’ closest friends. Using gentle force Tuesday to reach a settlement in the dispute, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer calling for provisions in new North American Free Trade Agreements with Canada to protect dairy farmers in states, including New York, lining the Canadian border.

The nation’s trade agreements must end unfair practices that hurt state dairy farmers, including those in Columbia and Greene counties, who are struggling in an era of milk overproduction and low milk prices, Gillibrand said. Negotiations between the two countries began early last week, but a break in the stalemate has not been reached.

Canada’s rigorous, protectionist policies appear to be the villain of the piece. The average state milk price in July was $16.10 per hundred-weight, down 80 cents from the June price, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In July 2017, the average state milk price reached $18 per hundred-weight, according to the report.

“In the grand scheme of things, Mexico is more important to the dairy industry because they have the highest consumption of dairy products,” said Eric Ooms, co-owner of A. Ooms and Sons Dairy Farm in Valatie. “As a New Yorker, though, Canada is more important because they are our direct neighbors. And regardless of what you think of President Trump, no dairy farmer would say he is wrong about Canada.”

In a statement Tuesday, U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19, feared dairy farmers in the state and locally will lose their livelihoods because of factors over which they have no control, namely Canadian pricing schemes.

The operative word was spoken by Ooms. The word is “neighbors.” Gillibrand and Faso, who also contacted Lighthizer, are pushing for an agreement that is fair to local dairy farmers just looking to survive. Here is an opportunity for our “neighbors to the north” to answer with responsible solutions and not merely rhetoric.