Last week Farm Aid had the opportunity to meet with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The USDA shares many priorities in common with Farm Aid and so far has demonstrated a commitment to family farms and recognition of their importance to our nation's economic recovery.
President Obama's rural plan starts with ensuring economic opportunity for family farmers, with goals to guarantee a strong safety net for family farmers, prevent anticompetitive behavior against family farms, regulate factory farms, encourage organic and sustainable agriculture, encourage young people to become farmers, and support local and regional food systems among other things. In its first six months, the USDA has made tremendous strides on these goals, from assisting farmers struggling with tight credit markets with direct farm operating loans (which went to 2,636 farmers, about half of whom were beginning farmers!) to demonstrating a commitment to integrate organic throughout the USDA, to instituting Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) to help consumers understand from where their food comes, to committing to resolve the black farmers discrimination lawsuit that has plagued the USDA for years.
In addition to offering our cooperation, collaboration and resources to the USDA to help build a family farm-centered system of agriculture, we were able to discuss the current dairy crisis with the Secretary. Here at Farm Aid we're hearing from struggling dairy farmers on a daily basis. On our hotline, the total number of calls coming from dairy farmers has increased nearly 500% as compared to last year. We are dedicated to advocating on their behalf as best we can.
We presented our petition to the Secretary and discussed the issue at length, including options that may help end the crisis and pay farmers a fair price for their milk, based on the cost of production. The Secretary demonstrated a keen awareness of the issue, comparing this crisis to that of the 1980s, which forced thousands of farmers off the land.
While we didn't come away from our meeting with a commitment from USDA to do something, we are encouraged by Vilsack's knowledge of the crisis and empathy for dairy farmers. This meeting opened the wires of communication to the USDA and both Farm Aid and USDA are committed to continued dialogue. In the meantime, we will continue to explore other avenues by which we might come to a solution. As always, we'll keep you posted.
To read Farm Aid's press release about the USDA meeting, click here.