MIDDLEBURY, Vt., Oct. 12 – Dozens of people, including nearly 20 dairy farmers joined a discussion in Middlebury on Friday to share their thoughts on the future of dairy farming in Vermont. The two-hour meeting organized by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ office focused on how to bolster milk prices and improve the viability of the dairy industry.
“Vermont’s dairy farmers have been struggling to make ends meet after several years of very low milk prices. My office organized this meeting to hear directly from farmers about what they think are possible solutions to raise prices,” said Sanders.
The price Vermont dairy farmers get for their milk has been below the cost of production for four years in a row. While the newly improved Margin Protection Program -- which acts as an insurance against low prices -- has helped ease short-term cash flow problems for some farmers, a long-term solution is desperately needed to boost milk prices.
In his introductory remarks, Sanders said that he had long supported some form of supply management to do just that. During the meeting, many of the participants agreed with that sentiment, including Marie Audet, who owns Blue Spruce Farm in Bridport.
Audet shared her concerns about the difficultly Vermont dairy farmers face when the price of milk fails to cover the costs of production. “We’re an industry that has no mechanism to match supply and demand. It’s about profitability not quantity,” she said.
Audet also said she and other farmers were glad to have an opportunity to speak directly with staff from the three congressional offices and with Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts.
“This is a real crisis,” Sanders said. “Over the last decade, Vermont has lost one-third of its dairy farms, and the state has lost more than 65 farms this year alone. Hard-working farmers are losing their livelihoods, their homes and their way of life. As farms disappear, so do the businesses and jobs they support, and so does Vermont’s iconic working landscape.”
On Thursday, Sanders introduced legislation to provide much-needed emergency relief to dairy farmers in Vermont and throughout the United States. 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.
Sanders also sent a letter this week to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, urging the agency to use its authority to purchase dairy products to be distributed to food shelves throughout the United States.
Sanders’ office will hold another listening session with dairy farmers in St. Albans on November 16.