Senate OKs $350M for milk price supports (Bennington Banner)

By KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

POWNAL -- While it’s still too early to tell, farmers are hoping price increases for dry milk and cheese approved by the Senate Tuesday will have an effect on the price of liquid milk.

The Senate voted 60 to 37 in favor of an amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT., to provide an added $350 million for milk price supports to increase the government’s purchase of dairy products.

According to Sanders’ office, the amendment will cause the price of nonfat dry milk to rise from 92 cents per pound to 97 cents per pound, the price of cheddar block cheese to go from $1.31 per pound to $1.40 per pound, and the price of cheddar barrels to go from $1.28 per pound to $1.37 per pound. Sander’s said the added funding should cause the price of liquid milk to rise by $1.50 per hundredweight.

The amendment comes on the heels of an announcement made Friday by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary, Tom Vilsack. According to Vilsack, the USDA raised the prices of nonfat dry milk and cheese in order to help struggling dairy farmers. Sanders’ amendment adds to the USDA’s increases.

Pownal dairy farmer Henry Strohmaier said Monday that he hasn’t been sent anything official on the prices yet, and it’s too early to tell if the price of cheese will affect liquid milk. He said normally when cheese prices rise, so do liquid milk prices, but times are uncertain. He said for the past nine  months, milk prices have been dropping, but one can’t tell the loss from day to day.

The price of milk per hundredweight dropped by 40 percent in February, causing much concern for struggling New England farmers. In February, the price for 100 pounds of milk was $10.72, which is down $8.96 from the February before. Farmers said the drop was bad on its own, but was compounded by costs of $4 per gallon gasoline over the summer. High gas costs meant the cost of feeding cows hay and corn was up, but the price of the milk they were putting out was down.

Strohmaier said he received $11.90 per hundredweight in the month of July. Last July, the price was closer to $19. He said that to break even his farm needs to sell at $18 per hundredweight.

He said he isn’t sure if the government’s measures to correct things will work, but they will have to by next spring, otherwise the New England dairy industry will likely see serious losses. He said a farm can only lose money for so long before it can’t continue to operate.

The public does not fully appreciate the impact of hits to the dairy industry, Strohmaier said, because few realize the ripple effect caused when the industry is hurt. He said farms make use of the computer, construction, shipping, and automotive industries and when farms are hurt, those industries suffer as well.

Wally Sheffer, a dairy farmer in Hoosick, N.Y., said he hasn’t heard much about the USDA’s actions but like Strohmaier, hopes the price of cheese will cause the price of liquid milk to climb.

According to the USDA, between August and October, the price increases should put $243 million into the revenue of American dairy farmers.

The USDA’s actions have generated praise from state governments and congressional representatives. "We are incredibly pleased that Secretary Vilsack has raised the dairy support prices," said Vermont Governor James Douglas. "This is a first and important step to relieve some of the financial stress Vermont dairy farmers and dairy farmers across the nation are experiencing."

"Fighting against this ongoing dairy crisis has been a priority of mine in my first 100 days in office," said Democrat Scott Murphy, who represents New York’s 20th U.S. Congressional District. "Following a letter to Secretary Vilsack, I’m glad to see immediate action being taken to provide greatly needed relief for the hard-working dairy farmers of the 20th District. While this is a step in the right direction, we need to continue our work to improve market conditions for our small dairy farmers."