Congress seeks answers for dairy prices | TSLN.com

Congress seeks answers for dairy prices

Jerry Hagstrom

DTN file photoA House Agriculture subcommittee hearing was held Tuesday to explore ways to help raise the prices dairy producers are getting for their products.

WASHINGTON (DTN) – Small-dairy farmers dressed in cow suits gathered outside the Longworth House Office Building Tuesday to protest their exclusion from a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on plummeting raw milk prices, while House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson dropped in on the hearing and announced that the subcommittee should hold two more hearings before the August break in an attempt to grapple with problems plaguing the industry.

Peterson, D-MN, said that more farm groups should be invited to one of the hearings and that another hearing should examine the impact of international trade on the dairy situation. Ag Committee staff quickly scheduled a hearing for July 21.

The National Family Farm Coalition organized the protest Tuesday. The National Farmers Union did not participate in the protest, but NFU lobbyist Katy Ziegler Thomas said in an e-mail that “a lot of our folks were surprised and discouraged that no producer organizations were invited to testify.”

Only Agriculture Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services James Miller, House members and dairy-specific organizations testified at the hearing.

House Agriculture Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Subcommittee Chairman David Scott, D-GA, said the other hearings are already in the works.

Miller testified Tuesday that dairy herds are dropping in size, but that USDA does not expect the dairy industry to reach a “break-even” point this year. With Peterson’s backing, USDA has already bought dairy products and provided export subsidies, but Miller did not announce any additional assistance to lawmakers.

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Speaking with reporters outside the hearing room, Peterson said he believes USDA “is about at the end of the road” in actions the department can take to help the industry and said that he hopes public hearings will come up with policy alternatives “we can rally around.”

Peterson also said that he sees regional conflicts over dairy developing as they have in the past and said he wants to avoid “regional wars” among dairy producers.

Tom Wakefield, a Bedford, PA farmer representing the National Milk Producers Federation, repeated the milk producers’ proposal that USDA temporarily increase the purchase prices for cheese and nonfat dry milk under the price support program. Miller said USDA is considering that request, but has made no decision.

The International Dairy Foods Association, which represents dairy processors, said forward contracting is an important risk-management tool for farmers, but said that the dairy program interferes with the use of risk management tools. Although the decline in exports is one of the reasons that dairy prices have plummeted, IDFA also testified that overseas demands offer most of the opportunities for the U.S. dairy industry in the future.

But Peterson said that a $10-per-hundredweight milk price “is not a help to anybody.” He added, “We got too carried away with this export market. You can’t rely on it.”

Three groups representing family farms criticized the hearing because testimony was only heard from what they perceived as large milk producers. The National Family Farm Coalition, Farm Aid and Food & Water Watch expressed concern that testimony did not represent the experiences, or preferred solutions, of small producers.

“Once again, factory farms got to express their concerns,” said Paul Rozwadowski, NFFC dairy subcommittee chairman. “Basically, Congress called on the fox to guard the henhouse.”

Rozwadowski said cow culling programs, export enhancement, increased milk payments, expanding loan programs and setting up an emergency floor price may be necessary for the industry’s short-term survival, but won’t solve the long-term problem.

“We need a whole new pricing system and supply management to go along with it and a little common sense when it comes to imports,” Rozwadowski said. The organizations support a bill by Pennsylvania Sens. Arlen Specter and Bob Casey that would set price for milk at the cost of production, ensuring that dairy farmers break even. But that bill is still in committee, and there’s no similar proposal in the House.

Hilde Steffey from Farm Aid said calls to their disaster hotline increased 500 percent from last year as more farmers can’t find enough money to pay their bills and many wonder how long they’ll last.

“I’m amazed they’ve held on this long,” Rozwadowski said. “They’re burning through their equity, burning through their savings, burning through their retirement. In the next three months we’ll see them go out at a really fast pace.”

WASHINGTON (DTN) – Small-dairy farmers dressed in cow suits gathered outside the Longworth House Office Building Tuesday to protest their exclusion from a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on plummeting raw milk prices, while House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson dropped in on the hearing and announced that the subcommittee should hold two more hearings before the August break in an attempt to grapple with problems plaguing the industry.

Peterson, D-MN, said that more farm groups should be invited to one of the hearings and that another hearing should examine the impact of international trade on the dairy situation. Ag Committee staff quickly scheduled a hearing for July 21.

The National Family Farm Coalition organized the protest Tuesday. The National Farmers Union did not participate in the protest, but NFU lobbyist Katy Ziegler Thomas said in an e-mail that “a lot of our folks were surprised and discouraged that no producer organizations were invited to testify.”

Only Agriculture Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services James Miller, House members and dairy-specific organizations testified at the hearing.

House Agriculture Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Subcommittee Chairman David Scott, D-GA, said the other hearings are already in the works.

Miller testified Tuesday that dairy herds are dropping in size, but that USDA does not expect the dairy industry to reach a “break-even” point this year. With Peterson’s backing, USDA has already bought dairy products and provided export subsidies, but Miller did not announce any additional assistance to lawmakers.

Speaking with reporters outside the hearing room, Peterson said he believes USDA “is about at the end of the road” in actions the department can take to help the industry and said that he hopes public hearings will come up with policy alternatives “we can rally around.”

Peterson also said that he sees regional conflicts over dairy developing as they have in the past and said he wants to avoid “regional wars” among dairy producers.

Tom Wakefield, a Bedford, PA farmer representing the National Milk Producers Federation, repeated the milk producers’ proposal that USDA temporarily increase the purchase prices for cheese and nonfat dry milk under the price support program. Miller said USDA is considering that request, but has made no decision.

The International Dairy Foods Association, which represents dairy processors, said forward contracting is an important risk-management tool for farmers, but said that the dairy program interferes with the use of risk management tools. Although the decline in exports is one of the reasons that dairy prices have plummeted, IDFA also testified that overseas demands offer most of the opportunities for the U.S. dairy industry in the future.

But Peterson said that a $10-per-hundredweight milk price “is not a help to anybody.” He added, “We got too carried away with this export market. You can’t rely on it.”

Three groups representing family farms criticized the hearing because testimony was only heard from what they perceived as large milk producers. The National Family Farm Coalition, Farm Aid and Food & Water Watch expressed concern that testimony did not represent the experiences, or preferred solutions, of small producers.

“Once again, factory farms got to express their concerns,” said Paul Rozwadowski, NFFC dairy subcommittee chairman. “Basically, Congress called on the fox to guard the henhouse.”

Rozwadowski said cow culling programs, export enhancement, increased milk payments, expanding loan programs and setting up an emergency floor price may be necessary for the industry’s short-term survival, but won’t solve the long-term problem.

“We need a whole new pricing system and supply management to go along with it and a little common sense when it comes to imports,” Rozwadowski said. The organizations support a bill by Pennsylvania Sens. Arlen Specter and Bob Casey that would set price for milk at the cost of production, ensuring that dairy farmers break even. But that bill is still in committee, and there’s no similar proposal in the House.

Hilde Steffey from Farm Aid said calls to their disaster hotline increased 500 percent from last year as more farmers can’t find enough money to pay their bills and many wonder how long they’ll last.

“I’m amazed they’ve held on this long,” Rozwadowski said. “They’re burning through their equity, burning through their savings, burning through their retirement. In the next three months we’ll see them go out at a really fast pace.”

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