Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Dairy Crisis: Part three of our three-part series on Farm Aid's farm policy efforts

JenCalls on Farm Aid's farmer hotline have increased 500% this year, mostly due to the dairy crisis, which has farmers earning about half what it costs them to produce milk. Farm Aid has connected dairy farmers from across the country and they've conducted media interviews and rallies to call attention to this issue. Tomorrow, Thursday Aug. 27, there will be a rally in Wooster, Ohio. If you're in the area and would like to show your support for dairy farmers and a local supply of fresh, safe milk, please contact the Ohio Farmers Union for more information at 888-610-4400. To understand how a dairy farmer becomes an organizer dedicated to fighting for something in which he believes, check out this profile of Jerry Harvey, an Iowa dairy farmer who picked up the phone this winter to call Farm Aid and say, "What can I do to help other dairy farmers?"

To do our part, Farm Aid collected more than 13,000 signatures asking Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to institute a floor price that covers the farmer's cost of production. We delivered those petitions to the Secretary in person in June. While Vilsack was well aware of the issue, he has not yet honored our request. In July, the USDA announced that they would increase the milk support price temporarily (bringing the price paid to farmers up by a little more than a dollar, not nearly enough to come even close to their cost of production). Congress passed legislation to increase the price support going forward in the 2010 agriculture appropriations bill. But these measures fall far short and have yet to have a significant impact on family dairy farmers or the milk market. Farm Aid continues to push for a floor price that takes into account the cost of production as a first step in the effort to reform the dairy industry.

As we mentioned in our update on farm foreclosure protection, Senators Feingold and Gillibrand have pushed USDA to raise the floor price for milk. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has also spoken out on the issue, with a letter to Secretary Vilsack addressing not just the price issue, but the issue of imports that undercut American farmers and price manipulation by giant processors, such as Dean and Dairy Farmers of America. Farm Aid is very happy to hear the news that the Department of Justice will be working with the USDA to investigate corporate concentration in agriculture, specifically in dairy, seeds and meatpacking. We'll be working with our partners to make sure that family farmers are well-represented at the concentration workshops the DOJ/USDA will be hosting this winter. The floor price we're pushing for is an immediate requirement to keep family farmers from selling off their herds and retiring from dairy for good or, in the worst case, losing their farms. There remains much work to be done to reform the entire dairy system and the DOJ/USDA workshops are another step in the right direction.

To sum up our 2009 policy work, while we continue to work on the issues of dairy, credit and foreclosure protection (remember, change comes slowly!), we're encouraged by the efforts of the USDA and Congress to listen to family farmers and take a look at policy with family farmers in mind. The Obama Administration's Rural Tour listening sessions, led by the USDA, are another step in the right direction to ensure that we're all working together to create a family-farm food system that grows healthy food, strong communities, economic prosperity and good health for ourselves and our planet. If you can, check out one of the Rural Tour stops; our policymakers need to hear from all of us—farmers and eaters alike.


  1. Anonymous10:35 PM

    I am surprised there haven't been more comments here. Farmers and agribusiness are suffering greatly. Are we being vocal enough?? Farmers should be able to provide for their families and it's difficult to do that now.

  2. Anonymous10:01 AM

    I object to the phrase " change comes slowly. The system showed how quickly funds can be found for the auto industry. Billions where immediatly available within a week for the people that wear the suits. We need relief immediatly as now the strain is showing up in unpaid bills, harvest about to begin and taxes are coming due.

  3. Last night, my dad almost killed himself.
    The dairy farm that has been in our family since the 1800's is falling apart.
    Unpaid feed, gas, tractor, and supply bills!
    My dad is over a million dollars in debt trying to keep up with the dairy farmer's market.
    They are not even paid enough in cash flow to cover the bills needed to actually run the farm itself!
    They have filed a foreclosure on the land and property. My Dad works from sun up to sun down every day to try and keep this farm going. The economy has taken a tole on my ol' daddy.
    He is not the same fun loveable father that he used to be. He is now being treated for suicidal thoughts and severe depression.
    My Dad dropped out of college in his fourth year to work the farm for my grandparents. My grandparents were just getting to old to keep on running it, and wanted to retire.
    My Dad thought that he could take over and help them retire like they wanted to.
    But, instead my whole family has to pitch in to even make it work.
    Every day, I pray for a miracle, but Daddy says "he quit prayin' a long time ago".
    This isn't my daddy at all!
    Someone tell me a way that I can get my Daddy back, and save this farm.
    Thanks for reading my comment.
    Thanks for helping the farms that you have helped.
    Jennifer Medley of ARkansas
    Cotton Hill's Dairy Farm, AR

  4. rnakr9:14 AM

    "price manipulation by giant processors, such as Dean and Dairy Farmers of America." A quote from your own web site illustrates part of the problem

    Horizon Dairy, a concert sponsor is part of Dean and part of the problem.
    Corporate farms have neither morals or a conscience.

  5. Please, read my family’s story.

    I want to share my story, about my family’s small dairy farm. This farm was first started in 1978 by my grandfather (Charles Bell) and my grandmother (Virble Bell). The farm was successful in every way. They even were awarded “Dairy Farmers Of The Year” in 1986. They graduated from Grade C milk to Grade A milk. As the years passed the farm was then left to my father (Everett Bell) in 1999. During the last decade, the prices for feed have increased, the prices for commodities have increased, and the prices being paid for milk production have dramatically decreased! This led my father to believe that he needed to build a barn that milked sixteen cows rather than the older barn that only milked five to six cows at a time. He also thought that the mixing the feed himself would help save cost on buying the feed or grains pre-mixed. With the price of milk per hundred pounds a decade ago, his plans for developing a bigger business would have worked, but the economy has changed and also the price of milk for producers. As the prices dropped and the commodity prices increased, this led my family into major debt issues. My grandparents, father, and my step-mother pulled out everything they had in savings, bonds, 401K, and retirement to put into the farm. My father also suffers from a major disease called Crone’s disease, which led to even more debt issues. Besides all of this, my point is that dairy farmers today are not getting the price per hundred gallons that they deserve. And even if the price of milk for producers do increase, how will my family be saved from foreclosure. Their houses, vehicles‘, land, and everything they own is tied up into this huge amount of debt towards the farm. They do not have the income to hire labor help, which leaves only my seventy-one year old grandfather, my sixty-six year old grandmother, my father, and his son to run the entire farm. There is more to be done than just milk the cows. They must care for the calves, provide food and proper conditions for the cows, maintain the tractors and equipment needed to keep the dairy farm alive. Cows must be milked at least twice a day for seven days a week. I (daughter of Everett Bell and my mother-in-law) have been donating our time into helping with labor time on the farm for free. My heart lies into this farm, and the needs of my family. My father has suffered not only physically, but mentally with this issue. My step-mother is a full time student attending nursing school to become an RN to help better provide for the family and the farm. We have searched for charity, donations, and fought hard everyday to come up with a solution for saving the farm. The farm is now in it’s fifth generation, and is on the verge of being foreclosed. What if any thing can I or my family do to save this farm. We desperately need assistance of some kind. I am asking with all of my heart that if you know or know someone that can help us achieve the goals of being debt free, and making our dairy farm a success, then please help! Please be aware that we are not the only dairy farmers suffering, but many have already been foreclosed or is on the verge of loosing everything they own as well. Within the last two years the dairy farms have decreased by 80 % the total there were in Arkansas. Can you help us to be able to leave the farm to the fifth generation son (Sidney Bell).

    Thank you for taking the time and the efforts in reading my story, and with hope and faith; may a miracle happen for my family and other dairy farmers around the world.

    With Deep Regards,

    Jennifer Danise Medley

    Cotton Hill’s Dairy Farm
    1874 West Center Street,
    Cave City, AR 72521
    Contact: Everett or Donna Bell
    Phone: 870-283-2663

  6. I wrote this poem. I wanted to share with you!

    Dairy Farmers Don't Give Up!

    Here is my story in a poem.

    I ‘m just a small town girl with a country heart,
    I seen my daddy work from sun till dark,
    On the tractor with the grain and hay,
    While the snow fell down; zero degrees that day,
    Kept on going seven days a week,
    A dairy farm for his family to feed.

    We’re just small and unknown,
    But we know how to work at home,
    We fight the battle of losing time,
    Working to save what’s in the family line,
    Maybe someday we’ll see the light,
    And win the Dairy Fight.

    I’ just a mother with broken heart,
    I seen my daddy cry and fall apart,
    On the tractor with his Chones disease hurting that day,
    While the heat melted his skin and face,
    Kept on going seven days a week,
    A dairy farm for his family to feed.

    We’re just small and unknown,
    But we know how to work at home,
    We fight the battle of foreclosure,
    Maybe someday we’ll find the place,
    And God will be our saving grace.

    We are small people with the biggest hearts,
    We drink tea from a southern jar,
    Our children work from sun till dark,
    On a Dairy Farm that’s fallen apart,
    But we’ll keep on praying ,
    Keep on going,
    Keep on working,
    For we don’t just give in,
    We’re a dairy that plans to stay and win!

    God, I’m just a simple girl,
    But I’m asking in this great big world,
    For a miracle to see,
    Please, lord make my daddy smile back at me.

    Oh, Lord make my daddy smile for me.

    Oh, God save us and set us free!