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Kohl Column: Dairy Month


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June is National Dairy Month, and a great time to celebrate family farmers by attending farm breakfasts and dairy events that are held throughout Wisconsin. Wisconsin's dairy families are operating under enormous economic strain - and they need to know we stand with them.

Family farming has been a part of Wisconsin's rich agriculture tradition for generations. Today's dairy producers are struggling to balance low prices against high production costs to simply keep their farms and families solvent. I understand this struggle, and continue fighting to help them through these hardships.

Last year during consideration of the 2008 Farm Bill, I fought to extend the expiring Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program. The MILC program provides critical support to farmers when milk prices are low. When the market recovers and prices go up, the government spends nothing. And unlike dairy compacts, the MILC program provides fair benefits to farmers all over the country, without pitting the interests of one region against another.

I also pressed to include a ‘feed cost adjuster' in the revised MILC program to bolster support when feed costs spike. MILC support from February to April ranged from $1.50 to $2.00 per hundredweight, with the ‘feed cost adjuster' contributing 9 to 17 cents of additional support. While those payments don't fully insulate dairy farmers from economic turmoil, they have over the years meant the difference between bankruptcy and survival for thousands of family-sized dairy operations in our state.

Difficulties in dairy are compounded by agricultural credit shortages. That's why I pressed to include $585 million in loans to support farmers in the recently-passed FY2009 Supplemental Appropriations bill. That bill includes $360 million for direct farm ownership loans, and $225 million for direct operating loans through the USDA's Farm Service Agency. These loans can help some struggling farmers avoid foreclosure and stay on their feet while continuing to operate their farms.

As Chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, I also worked closely with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack by encouraging full utilization of the Dairy Export Incentive Program (DEIP) to keep U.S. dairy products competitive around the world. DEIP can help clear price-depressing surpluses here at home and allow farmers to compete domestically and internationally.

Many challenges lie ahead. But I am confident in Wisconsin's long-term, unyielding commitment to progress in agriculture. The Dairy Business Innovation Center, continues to help dairy entrepreneurs with business planning and product development. And as a co-sponsor of the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits, and Security Act (AGJOBS), I look forward to a time when Wisconsin dairy farms have more certainty of a steady workforce.

As we press forward with a broad-based economic recovery program for the nation, I remain committed to making sure that rural Wisconsin and her dairy industry enjoy better times ahead.

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