Statement: Sanders on Dairy Crisis

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) held a press conference today to build support for legislation to help dairy farmers confronting the lowest prices in four decades.  Here is Sanders’ opening statement:

“Over the last many months our dairy farmers have faced a crisis in low prices that they have not seen in over 40 years. Since November, 2008, the price of milk has bottomed out, plummeting 33 percent in eight months.  This brings farm milk prices to the same levels as three decades ago, with many New England dairy farmers receiving just $1.00 per gallon of milk in nominal dollars. At the same time, in grocery stores the average price for a gallon of whole milk is hovering around $3. These low prices are devastating our dairy farmers across the country. In my small state of Vermont alone we have lost 32 dairy farms since January.

“Who, you may ask, is getting that extra money when farmers get $1 a gallon and milk sells for $3 or $4 dollars a gallon in the store?  Among others, it is the dairy processors like Dean Foods who are reaping huge profits while dairy farmers across the country are going out of business.  Dean Foods, the nation’s largest processor, reported $76.2 million in profits for the first quarter of 2009, more than two and a half times its $30.8 million in the first quarter of 2008. 

“Since its merger with Suiza Foods in 2001, Dean Foods has seen its profits skyrocket, enough that over the last five years it has paid its CEO Gregg Engles $116.38 million.  These big companies don’t care about dairy farmers. In fact, they love these low dairy prices. It increases their bottom line at the expense of farmers and consumers.  You will notice that when prices on the farm for milk go up, prices in the stores go up, but when farmers get paid less on the farm, the prices in the store take a lot longer to come down.

“These are tough times but, working together with senators from different parts of the country over the last few months we have taken some important steps to begin to address the dairy crisis:

“As you may know, in July, under the leadership of Senators Leahy and Kohl, many of us worked with the Secretary of Agriculture to secure an increase in the Dairy Product Price Support Program levels, which resulted in a per hundredweight increase of approximately $1.50.

“In August, we managed to pass an amendment to the Agricultural Appropriations bill that I offered which provides an additional $350 million to take immediate action to help increase farm dairy prices. The amendment won with 60 votes. Depending on how the final bill is written, this funding could provide a per hundredweight increase of approximately another $1.50 to $2.00.

“While these are important steps we know that there is much more work left to do. Working together with senators and farmers from across the country we can achieve much more for Rural America and our family dairy farmers. Moving forward, in my view, I think we need to look at larger structural reforms to the arcane and complicated dairy pricing system, we need to look at supply management to end the boom and bust cycle of dairy prices, and we need to launch investigations into the manipulative and anti-competitive practices of companies like Dean Foods that control more and more of the market and are forcing down the price that farmers get paid for their milk.”

Sanders and the National Farmers Union hosted the press conference Tuesday morning on Capitol Hill with Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Robert Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.).