By Catherine Merlo, Western editor Dairy Today
The U.S. Senate voted 60 to 37 yesterday for an amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to provide an extra $350 million for milk price supports to increase government purchases of surplus dairy products.
Reducing supply will result in higher prices for dairy farmers desperate for help as they cope with the lowest prices in nearly four decades, reported a news release from Sanders' office. The extra $350 million would provide farmers on average an estimated $1.50 extra per hundredweight.
California-based Western United Dairymen also worked to support the amendment. WUD said the House bill does not include the same language, so conference committee in September is the next step. California Senator Dianne Feinstein has been named a conferee.
"Family-based dairy agriculture is on the verge of collapse,” Sanders told colleagues in a Senate floor speech yesterday. "This is not a regional issue. This is a national issue. From the east coast to the west coast, what we are seeing is prices plummeting below the cost of production.
"If Congress does not act, all over America rural communities are going to be suffering economically. People are going to be losing their jobs, and the American people increasingly will not be able to obtain fresh, locally produced food.”
The increase in the Farm Service Agency budget to more than $1.6 billion would allow USDA to raise the support price for nonfat dry milk from $.92/lb. to $.97/lb. The floor for cheddar blocks would go from $1.31/lb. to $1.40/lb., and the price for cheddar barrels would increase from $1.28/lb. to $1.37/lb.
The price farmers receive for their milk has bottomed out over the last year, plummeting 41% to $11.30/cwt., Sanders' office said. It costs farmers about $18/cwt. to produce milk.
As prices plunged, family dairy farms around the country have gone out of business. "This is a disaster for the farmers, for the thousands of rural communities, and for millions of consumers who want fresh, locally-produced food,” Sanders said.
Sanders' amendment to the agriculture appropriations legislation was supported by the National Farmers Union, Vermont Agriculture Secretary Roger Allbee, and state agriculture commissioners or secretaries in 10 other northeastern states.
Follow this link to see Sanders' dairy speech on the floor of the Senate.
Catherine Merlo is Western editor for Dairy Today. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.