WASHINGTON, August 4 – The Senate today voted 60 to 37 for an amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to provide an extra $350 million for milk price supports to increase government purchases of surplus dairy products.
Reducing supply will result in higher prices for dairy farmers desperate for help as they cope with the lowest prices in nearly four decades. The extra $350 million would provide farmers on average an estimated $1.50 extra per hundredweight, the industry's standard unit of measurement.
“Family-based dairy agriculture is on the verge of collapse,” Sanders told colleagues in a Senate floor speech. “This is not a regional issue. This is a national issue. From the east coast to the west coast, what we are seeing is prices plummeting below the cost of production.
“If Congress does not act, all over America rural communities are going to be suffering economically. People are going to be losing their jobs, and the American people increasingly will not be able to obtain fresh, locally produced food.”
The increase in the Farm Service Agency budget to more than $1.6 billion would allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to raise the support price for nonfat dry milk from $.92 per pound to $.97 per pound. The floor for cheddar blocks would go from $1.31 to $1.40, and the price for cheddar barrels would increase from $1.28 to $1.37.
The price farmers receive for their milk has bottomed out over the last year, plummeting 41 percent to $11.30 per hundredweight. It costs farmers about $18 per hundredweight to produce milk.
As prices plunged, family dairy farms around the country have gone out of business. “This is a disaster for the farmers, for the thousands of rural communities, and for millions of consumers who want fresh, locally-produced food,” Sanders said.
Sanders’ amendment to the agriculture appropriations legislation was supported by the National Farmers Union, Vermont Agriculture Secretary Roger Allbee, and state agriculture commissioners or secretaries in 10 other northeastern states.
Watch the senator's floor speech here.