National News

Federal aid for dairy sought

Posted May 16, 2018 8:15 a.m. EDT

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is calling on the federal government to help farmers stay afloat as they grapple with the financial and mental toll of low prices, changing consumer tastes, rising costs and an oversupply of milk.

On Tuesday, Gillibrand urged U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to authorize $300 million in emergency relief funding for dairy farmers. The USDA provided financial assistance most recently to cotton farmers in 2016 and 2018.

In a conference call with reporters, Gillibrand read a quote from a recent Times Union article and said she'd heard stories of poverty, depression and suicide among farmers. They are "losing money on every pound of milk they produce," and while many farms have already gone out of business, more are on the brink of failure, she said.

"New York's dairy farmers have been suffering for too long," Gillibrand said. "We can't wait until the next Farm Bill."

If the USDA approved the funding, farmers would get $8,000 on average with their milk checks. The money would be available only on the first 4 million pounds of production, and further consideration would be given to areas with high production costs, Gillibrand wrote in a letter to Perdue.

During the call, Gillibrand said she had spoken with Perdue about her request.

Earlier this year Gillibrand proposed legislation, which she hopes will make it into the next Farm Bill, creating a "price floor" for milk. The threshold would be $23.34 per hundredweight, or 11 gallons of milk, and would be adjusted for inflation. Farmers would receive 45 percent of the difference between the current all-milk price _ which is projected to range between $15.60 and $16.10 per hundredweight this year, according to the USDA _ and $23.34.

To participate, farmers would have to enroll in the Margin Protection Program, an initiative aimed at protecting them from fluctuating prices but that many complain has provided inadequate returns. Congress approved several changes to the program within the bipartisan budget act earlier this year, including altering premium costs and increasing production coverage. Registration runs through June 1.

"This is a crisis," Gillibrand said Tuesday.

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