There are a couple of recent developments in the dairy crisis to update you about.
Back in October 2009, Congress approved $350 million in emergency funding for dairy farmers. $60 million was to be used to purchase excess dairy products for use in federal nutrition programs to help even out the market and drive the price of raw milk up from the abysmal lows farmers received throughout 2009. The remaining $290 million was to be used to directly assist dairy farmers. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack promised, "We'll do everything we possibly can to move it out to the countryside as quickly as we can." On December 17, 2009, Secretary Vilsack made good on that promise when the USDA announced that the $290 was to be distributed immediately through the Dairy Economic Loss Assistance Program (DELAP).
As the USDA explains, eligible producers will receive a one-time direct payment based on the amount of milk both produced and commercially marketed by their operation during the months of February through July 2009. Production information from these months will be used to estimate a full year's production to calculate the payments.
We're hearing from dairy farmers who have received their payment. While they're thankful for the assistance, by no means does it cover the losses they suffered in 2009, when the price of milk never even came near the high cost of production that farmers faced. If you're a dairy farmer and have not received your payment yet, check with your local Farm Service Agency (FSA) county office or go to www.fsa.usda.gov.
Going into 2010, production costs have decreased and the outlook for milk prices looks better. In spite of the rising price farmers receive for milk, those dairy farmers who have survived this far will have a tough go of it — already we're hearing from farmers on our hotline who have been denied credit for the upcoming year. Without credit, many farmers will be unable to plant their feed crops or purchase feed for their animals, upgrade or maintain equipment, or cover the daily expenses of farming.
In order to better understand the dairy industry, the USDA has announced the formation of a Dairy Industry Advisory Committee. Over two years, the 17-member committee will review the issues of farm milk price volatility, dairy farmer profitability, consolidation, and fair prices and offer suggestions on how the USDA can best address the needs of a struggling dairy industry. The committee is made up of farmers, academics, industry representatives and consumers. Two folks from Farm Aid-funded organizations were nominated: Ed Maltby of Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance and James Goodman of Family Farm Defenders. The committee will hold its first meeting in early 2010 and it will be open to the public. When we have more information, we'll let you know, so that you may participate.
Finally, and on a lighter note (well, lighter in subject matter, not butterfat!), check out this butter sculpture from the Pennsylvania Farm Show. The sculpture pays tribute to the value that family dairy farmers bring to our tables. Moo-tiful!