WASHINGTON, October 8 – By a vote of 76 to 22, the Senate today passed and sent to President Obama legislation to provide $350 million in emergency assistance for hard-pressed dairy farmers. The House last night approved the same $121 billion agriculture spending bill for the 2010 budget year.
The bill includes $290 million for direct support to dairy farmers using guidelines to be determined by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack under an expedited process. Another $60 million would be used to purchase cheese and other dairy products for food banks and nutrition programs, spurring prices for raw dairy products by drawing down supplies of the commodity.
“I am glad the bill was approved. My hope now is that Secretary Vilsack will move as rapidly as possible and get support out to dairy farmers who are in desperate need,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who sponsored the amendment in the Senate tacking the dairy funds onto the Department of Agriculture appropriations bill.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee which handled the Senate’s work on the bill. He said, “This is another timely lifeline for dairy farmers who are struggling just to stay afloat through this crisis. These direct payments are a fast and efficient way to deliver help right to the farm. Right now another day of dairy farming means another day of losses, and we need both short-term and long-term solutions to break these vicious downward price spirals. Secretary Vilsack knows what dairy farmers are going through, and I expect that USDA will move promptly to put these emergency funds from the Sanders Amendment to use.”
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), cochairman of the Congressional Dairy Farmers Caucus, said, “Vermont’s dairy farmers need assistance, and they need it now. I’m relieved that Congress has acted to provide this critical funding, and I’m hopeful that Secretary Vilsack will act swiftly to ensure it reaches Vermont farmers soon. While this emergency assistance will not solve the long-term problems the industry faces, it will provide much-needed temporary support to these hardworking, dedicated members of our community.”
The average price farmers received for their milk fell this year to $11.30 per hundredweight, down from $19.30 in July 2008. It costs farmers at least $18 per hundredweight to produce milk. As prices plunged, family dairy farms in Vermont and around the country went out of business.
Dairy farmers got a temporary boost from the Agriculture Department last July 31 when Secretary Vilsack – after meeting with the senators from Vermont and other dairy states – approved a three-month price hike that was expected to increase farmers’ revenue nationwide by $243 million.