While the dairy crisis has been overshadowed in the media by other news, the problem facing dairy farmers has not gone away. In fact, as they get ready to enter 2010, dairy farmers are carrying tremendous debt loads from a year that has been the worst since the Great Depression. The nation's 60,000 dairy farmers struggle to survive another month on prices that do not even cover their costs. And forecasts for 2010—while a bit better—still do not show farmers turning a profit. In essence, dairy farmers are paying to go to work everyday, instead of being paid for their hard work and dedication.
Yesterday in Washington, D.C. more than 100 dairy farmers from New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee met with congressional and USDA representatives to present solutions and urge immediate action. They also held a press conference—with only one reporter in attendance to cover their story. To read Farm Aid's press release, click here.
The farmers had traveled overnight by bus to ask Congress to restore fairness in the dairy pricing system, enforce anti-trust laws and ensure that dairy farmers receive a fair price for their product. As Carolyn Mugar, Farm Aid's executive director explains, "Dairy farmers don't want a bailout." They are proud, hardworking people, who put in the time and the effort, and they just want their fair shake at making a living.
So now you're wondering why only 100 dairy farmers showed up if this is such a pressing issue? While they are losing money everyday, many farmers were supportive of this day of action but couldn't afford to take a trip to D.C., which means not only paying for transportation, but also hiring someone to come and milk the cows for the time they are gone.
For the farmers who could not make it to D.C., there is a part two to this action: those farmers will meet with their representatives in their home districts once Congress adjourns later this month. To get active and do your part for dairy farmers and a safe, US milk supply, check out this Ask Hilde article on activism.
Farm Aid has been working for dairy farmers in crisis since the start of 2009 and has met with Secretary Vilsack to pass on 13,000 signatures calling for the USDA to establish a floor price that covers farmers' production costs. While we're still waiting for that, we're also waiting on the emergency funds Congress authorized in the 2010 Agriculture Appropriations Bill in October that will put a small amount (probably about equal to one month of a small farmer's loss over the last year) in the pockets of dairy farmers. While the USDA promised to distribute those funds as soon as possible, dairy farmers are still waiting. This emergency money is merely a stop-gap measure and not the total solution dairy farmers need, but regardless Secretary Vilsack needs to quickly distribute the emergency assistance aid so that we can stop losing dairy farmers and start correcting the system.