Iowa Public Television

 

Vermont Panel Hears From Dairy Farmers

posted on July 24, 2009


MONTPELIER, Vt. - With milk prices nearly half of what they were a year ago, dairy farmer Jack Brigham of St. Albans estimates he's losing between $5,000 and $7,000 a month.

He's also borrowing money to stay afloat.

"It can't last much longer," Brigham said in an interview after attending a Vermont Milk Commission meeting Thursday.

The economic crisis facing farmers is the worst since the dairy industry started, said fellow farmer David Montagne of St. Albans.

Brigham, Montagne and other farmers are looking to the commission and its chairman, Vermont Agriculture Secretary Roger Allbee, to help solve the crisis.

"We need federal intervention," Brigham said.

Allbee and Vermont's congressional delegation have been pushing for federal help for Vermont's dairy farmers, whether it's raising the milk subsidy paid to farmers when prices fluctuate or revamping the federal milk pricing system.

Milk prices paid to farmers have dropped to less than $11 per 100 pounds in June from $19 a year ago, while production costs are around $17 per 100 pounds.

"I think it's safe to say there's a great deal of interest in doing something quickly," said Allbee, just back from a trip to Washington where he and agriculture chiefs from New York and Pennsylvania met with the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday.

Allbee co-signed a letter by agriculture officials in the Northeast to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, asking him to increase the dairy support price to prevent the loss of other farms.

"That would raise the price to farmers immediately," he said.

The Northeast has 145,000 jobs supported by the dairy industry and provides 20 percent of the country's milk production, the letter said.

Allbee said Vilsack has indicated he wants to act quickly. The holdup is where the money will come from, Allbee said.

"But there is a recognition that the crisis is something that has to be addressed immediately," Allbee said.

Commissioners decided to try to meet with dairy processors to discuss how they might help, said state Sen. Robert Starr, D-Essex-Orleans, commissioner member.

The panel also revisited adding a surcharge to the price dairy processors pay for milk. But Allbee said he worried that it would be challenged in court.


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