This week, the House will debate a new farm bill that holds the best hope for stabilizing the price Vermont’s dairy farmers receive for their milk. However, powerful food processing interests are mobilizing to kill a key provision in order to maximize their earnings, and the speaker of the House is in their corner.
Vermonters know that the best way to maintain a steady supply of milk for consumers is to keep our dairy farmers in business. Rochester dairy farmers Beth and Bob Kennett, who milk 130 cows, said it best: “Our family is committed to producing food. The volatility of the current dairy pricing system is destroying the economic security of dairy farms, farm families and communities in Vermont and throughout the country.”
Over the last decade, dairy farmers have been on a roller-coaster ride — from dramatic highs to deep lows — on the price they receive for milk. Price instability has caused family farms around the country to forgo investments, lose hard-earned equity and, in too many cases, go out of business.
Vermont’s dairy farmers are hanging on by their fingernails. But they are not asking for a handout. They simply want the certainty of a reliable price for their product.
The Dairy Security Act empowers a dairy farmer, like any other business owner, to respond to market signals when determining how much milk to produce. It is the product of a collaboration among dairy farmers from Vermont to California that will end the price instability that is slowly destroying their livelihoods.
Under their proposal, dairy farmers will, for the first time, have an option to self-insure against deep losses instead of relying on inadequate federal safety net payments. The DSA will smooth out the price volatility that reaches deep into farm income and equity. This change is critical for the future of dairy farms in Vermont and across the nation.
Ninety-seven percent of dairy farms in the United States are owned by families. They are stewards of the land and their communities. They deeply value farm life despite narrow and all too often negative margins. They are poised to modernize dairying as they invest in new technologies to support efficiency and conservation. And, most importantly, they are proud to supply the world with a nutritious and high-quality source of milk.
In Vermont, dairy is the bedrock of our agricultural sector, our landscape and our way of life. The Dairy Security Act holds the key to the future of family-owned dairy farms in Vermont and across the country. I am fighting sidebyside with Vermont’s dairy farmers, along with Sens.Leahy and Sanders, to pass this bill. It’s an uphill battle, but it’s a fight well worth having.
Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat, is Vermont’s lone member of the U.S. House.MORE IN Commentary
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