U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide dairy farmers with $300 million in emergency grants as milk prices continue to drop.
Gillibrand sent a request to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Tuesday asking that he provide dairy farmers with emergency financial relief in tough times.
“New York’s dairy farmers have been suffering for too long,” Gillibrand said. “This is a crisis in our backyard. I have read about farmers living in poverty, not being able to pay their bills and having to sell their farms to the highest bidder. Dairy farms are the heart and soul of our rural communities.”
The 2018 all-milk price forecast is $15.60 to $16.10 per hundredweight, a decrease from last month’s forecast of $15.75 to $16.35, according to the USDA.
With $300 million in grants, which farmers will not have to apply for, each farmer in New York would receive about $8,000 in emergency money, Gillibrand said.
Gillibrand’s plan is similar to what the USDA did for cotton farmers in 2016, in which farmers received $300 million in cost-share assistance payments through a new program at the time known as the Cotton Ginning Cost-Share program.
“Dairy farmers need relief and it cannot wait for the Farm Bill,” Gillibrand said. “Cotton is a storable product. Secretary Perdue needs to do what is right by dairy farmers now.”
The margin between the all-milk price and the cost of feed for the northeast region of the country continues to decrease — the lower the margin the worse it is for farmers — from 2017 to 2018. The margin this time last year was $8.91 and this year the margin is projected to be $6.88, according to data from the USDA.
The margin between milk prices and the cost of feed is used to determine insurance premiums and payouts through the Dairy Margin Protection Program, a federal insurance program for dairy farmers to help them stay afloat in times of low milk prices.
Congress is working on a farm bill for 2018, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act, that would make changes to the insurance program for dairy farmers. Congress also passed changes to the program as part of the 2018 budget including calculating price to expense margins monthly, rather than bimonthly.
Gillibrand sponsored two bills meant to help dairy farmers, both of which she is trying to include in the 2018 Farm Bill.
One of the bills would provide farmers enrolled in the Dairy Margin Protection Program refunds after both dairy prices and feed costs decreased simultaneously. With both factors decreasing the number of farmers who received payouts was low.
The program paid out $403,859 to 180 farm organizations in the state in June 2016.
Gillibrand also sponsored a bill that would create a dairy price floor of $23.34 per hundredweight, and would adjust over time for inflation, ensuring farmers get help through the Dairy Farm Sustainability Act up to the first 5 million pounds of production.