The National Family Farm Coalition is calling for emergency action to stop "the devastating crisis in rural America due to record-low milk prices."
"Our nation is in serious jeopardy of losing our local dairy food production," says
NFFC Dairy Subcommittee Chairman Paul Rozwadowski. "We have already heard of farm suicides, farmers going out of business and credit and loans that are hard to get because of the devaluing of farm assets and our equity. The current crisis stems from the corruption and greed that exists in the industry and not because of any rational supply-demand factor."
The drying up of available credit has endangered many dairy operations, says Bryan Wolfe, an Ohio dairy farmer and vice-president of Ohio Farmers Union.
"While it is good that Congress has passed more money to be available for loans through FSA, credit is still extremely hard to access here in Northeast Ohio," Whie says. "FSA loans can take an extremely long time to process."
NFFC is also fighting for allowing farm loans from private banks to have debt restructured to stop foreclosures on farms. The group with help from Farm Aid, is urging Congress and USDA to a implement an emergency floor price of $18 per hundredweight (cwt) of milk. Farmers are currently seeing prices from $9-12 per cwt.
Any long-term solution would have to involve fixing the current broken pricing system that allows for such extreme volatility, says Arden Tewksbury, manager of Progressive Agriculture. 23 members of Congress also sent a letter to Secretary Vilsack recently urging him to take into account cost of production for milk pricing. Senators Bob Casey and Arlen Specter have introduced a bill, the Federal Milk Marketing Improvement Act of 2009 (S. 889), to factor in farmers' cost of production in the milk pricing system.
"This is the worst crisis I have ever witnessed in decades," Tewksbury says. Instead of relying on the highly flawed Chicago Mercantile Exchange for milk pricing, and allowing imported milk protein concentrates to be dumped into the U.S., S. 889 would institute a supply management program to balance imports and exports and factor farmers' cost of production as part of the price of milk, he claims.
NFFC applauded the recent action taken by the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee for including $585 million in direct farm loans to be made available through USDA's Farm Service Authority to address the farm credit crisis. However, they say urgent attention still must be paid to the problem of record low milk prices if we are to keep alive America's remaining 60,000 dairy farmers.
The group's press released noted that Jennifer Fahy of Farm Aid "highlighted" their petition to request Secretary Tom Vilsack to take immediate action and institute an emergency floor price for dairy farmers.
"Our petition allows consumers to join with farmers in asking for a fair price for farmers so we can ensure strong, local, regional economies," Fahy says. "While processors have benefited from the price collapse to farmers, consumers have yet to see lower prices. Neither farmers nor consumers benefit from increased consolidation to the industry."
She noted that Farm Aid is helping to organize a dairy rally on May 30 in Manchester, Iowa. Look for several NFFC dairy farmers to speak in Iowa.