On Thursday Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Representative Joe Courtney (CT-02), Senator Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), joined by a bipartisan coalition of 57 other members of the House and Senate that includes Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.), sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack asking for assistance for dairy producers struggling with declining milk prices. Specifically, the lawmakers are asking for the USDA to use its existing authorities to expand and maintain U.S. domestic markets, encourage the domestic consumption of dairy products, and help dairy farmers through this financial crisis. Leahy is a leading member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a former chairman of the panel.
Vermont's dairy sector brings $2.2 billion in economic activity to the state each year, and dairy businesses invest more than $500 million to support Vermont's agricultural economy. These are dollars that support local jobs that keep families rooted in Vermont, and supporting the Green Mountain State's unique rural way of life while supporting local economies. Vermont provides 63 percent of the milk produced in New England. Farm milk prices have dropped 40 percent since 2014 due to multiple events -- from an increase in U.S. production levels, to changes in the European Union's regulation of milk production, and a drop in the export market. In vastly different dairy market regions of the United States, farmers are facing similar margin shortfalls while still adjusting to changes in federal dairy support programs from the 2014 Farm Bill. The Secretary of Agriculture has the authority, under the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act, to expand and maintain U.S. domestic markets. By taking such action, the USDA can make an immediate market injection to directly and equally support struggling dairy farmers nationwide.
In a joint statement, Leahy, Sanders and Welch said: "Our dairy farms and the hardworking families that keep them running in communities in Vermont and across the nation are enduring an extremely tough summer as prices have plunged to a nearly ten-year low, well below the cost of production. This comes on the heels of a very challenging spring, and we are deeply concerned that the current price forecasts remain dire for our farmers. That is why we have come together today, Democrats and Republicans from across the country, to call on USDA to act with urgency, using every tool and authority at their disposal, to help our struggling dairy farmers. They cannot wait. They need our help now."
Bob Wellington Sr., Vice President of Agri-Mark, Inc., said: "Farm milk prices have been severely depressed since 2014 and remain well below the costs of producing it. This continues to force many hard-working farm families out of business and greatly discourages the next generation of young farmers who are needed to produce this nation's food."
Leon Berthiaume, CEO of St. Albans Cooperative Creamery, said: "Vermont and the Northeast Dairy Industry is an integral part of our economy. The viability of our dairy operations is essential in maintaining the infrastructure supporting our industry which is fragile. Our dairy farms also impact various facets of our community. We are in a very challenging price cycle for our dairy farms, which has been and looks like an extensive period. Any assistance that USDA can provide to support our industry and dairy farm families will be well received."