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A guest editorial by Arden Tewksbury, Manager, Pro-Ag.

Recently some members of the Progressive Agriculture Organization (Pro-Ag) and some members of the National Family Farm Coalition have been considering petitioning the USDA to have a national hearing to deal with the financial mess that the average dairy farmer is experiencing.

Two of the most important items to be discussed at a hearing would be 1) a new pricing formula and 2) a milk supply management program that would be funded by dairy farmers.  Please remember we don’t support a supply management program unless there is a new pricing formula that would consider the dairy farmers’ cost of operation.  It’s very important that 1) and 2) go together.

However, I felt it was necessary to find out if the USDA could consider a supply management program in a hearing.  After several calls we found out that the US Congress (remember they are the voice of the people?) removed the language for a base excess milk plan in the 1996 Farm Bill.  In other words, the USDA doesn’t have any authority to implement any form of a base excess plan for dairy farmers.

We are still attempting to find out if the USDA could entertain any other types of a milk supply management program besides a base excess program.

Again, let’s revisit the items that the US Congress has levied on the dairy farmers or the items they have taken away from them.  It started in 1981 when Congress froze the dairy support price at $12.60 per cwt.  In following years they reduced the support price from $13.10 per cwt. down to $9.90 per cwt.  They saddled the dairy farmers with the huge expense of the milk diversion program as well as the Dairy Termination Act (the buy-out plan).

Both plans were geared to fit the dairy farmers’ financial dilemma.  Both plans failed.

Then prior to 2000, the USDA was ordered by Congress to consolidate the Federal Orders.  However, this consolidation eliminated Farm Point Pricing that was in Order #2, and we lost the cooperatives’ payment provision. (This is why some plants closed and milk has been dumped.)  Dairy farmers lost the milk supply program that was in at least five Federal Orders.

And then the grand-daddy of all actions taken by Congress was in the most recent Farm Bill when the Dairy Support Price Program was eliminated, which also eliminated the US Secretary of Agriculture from purchasing needed dairy products and giving it to the needy people of the United States.

Also, the Farm Bill eliminated the Milk Income Loss Payment (MILC) for dairy farmers!

Wow, what a record for the US Congress.  Oh, I nearly forgot that Congress gave dairy farmers the ill-fated Margin Insurance Program, which is not geared to raise milk prices to dairy farmers and never will!

It’s time that the US Congress and the new administration come to grips with the real problems facing the average dairy farmer.

Dairy farmers deserve to have hearings where dairy farmers can speak out and be listened to.  Time is continuing to run out for many dairy farmers.

It’s time for action by Congress and the new administration to give the average dairy farmer a fighting chance to survive, not only for the well-being of the dairy farmer, but also to protect what’s left of the rural economy.  We have the workable solutions, just give us a chance.

Pro-Ag can be reached at 570-833-5776.

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