WASHINGTON, Oct. 11 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation on Thursday to provide much-needed emergency relief to dairy farmers in Vermont and throughout the United States.
Vermont’s dairy farmers are struggling to survive. The price they get for their milk has been below the cost of production for four years in a row. Since 2014, dairy prices have fallen from $25 per hundredweight to less than $16. That’s less than farmers received in 1989.
Not surprisingly, Vermont has already lost more than 65 dairy farms this year alone and about one-third of its dairy farms in the last decade. Today, there are just 709 active dairy farms left in Vermont.
“This is a crisis,” Sanders said. “Hard-working farmers are losing their livelihoods, their homes and their way of life. And, as farms disappear, so do the businesses and jobs they support. And so does Vermont’s iconic working landscape, as dairy farming still accounts for 80 percent of all farmland in our state.”
“The loss of farms is a harbinger for declining rural viability, and it’s happening all across rural America,” Sanders said. “We can’t let that happen.”
Sanders’ bill gives priority for emergency payments to farmers that live in states where the cost of milk production is higher than the national average, and to farmers with smaller operations. Both of these measures will benefit Vermont’s family farmers.
In 2009, Sanders successfully secured $350 million in emergency funding to support dairy farmers throughout the U.S. That legislation meant an average of $8,000 in emergency federal support for a Vermont dairy farmer with a 125-cow herd.
“Farmers clearly need our help now. This is a matter of survival,” Sanders said. “However, while this bill will provide temporary relief, ultimately we need a sustainable, long-term solution to ensure farmers receive a fair price for the high-quality milk they produce. To my mind, that has got to include managing the supply of milk. We must also take a hard look at consolidation in dairy processing and distribution, and whether we need stronger antitrust laws to protect consumers and producers alike.”
Sanders also sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Thursday to urge the agency to use its authority to purchase dairy products to be distributed to food shelters nationally.
“Right now, we have a situation where our dairy farmers are struggling to survive because of extremely low milk prices. We are producing too much milk and far too many Americans – including millions of children – go to bed hungry because they do not have enough to eat,” Sanders said. “I urge Secretary Perdue to use the authority he already has to purchase and distribute dairy products through the Emergency Food Assistance Program. This will help farmers, as well as millions of Americans who struggle to put food on the table.”
Sanders’ office has organized a series of listening sessions with Vermont dairy farmers to get their input on how to improve milk prices and the long-term viability of dairy farming. The first discussion will be held this Friday in Middlebury, Vermont.
To read Sanders’ emergency dairy legislation, click here
To read Sanders’ letter, click here
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