New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, along with fellow Congressional leaders in a national bipartisan effort, are urging the federal appropriations committee to financially aid dairy farmers in a period of historically low milk prices. According to a statement released by Senator Gillibrand’s office, the cost of milk has decreased by more than 40 percent in the past two years, cutting the annual income of many American dairy farmers in half.
Hudson Valley dairy farmers are among those that have felt the drop in milk prices. According to Sam Simon, owner of Plankenhorn Farm in Pleasant Valley and president of the Hudson Valley Fresh dairy cooperative, nearly 320 dairy farms populated the region when he moved to the area in 1977. Now only 18 remain. “The problem is that the commodity price of milk is less than it costs to produce it,” he said. “I think it’s time for a change.”
The senators are now calling on appropriators to not only include funding for dairy farmers in the 2017 Fiscal Year budget, but also authorize Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack to reimburse farmers for the $73 million they paid in 2015 toward the Dairy Margin Protection Program (DMPP). The DMPP is intended to provide adept coverage against catastrophes. In a joint letter released last week, the senators argue that the DMPP has failed to provide farmers with the level of security originally intended, and it must be reformed. 2015 year-end fiscal summaries reveal that the USDA returned approximately $700,000 of the $73 million collected in DMPP premiums and fees to farmers – merely 0.1 percent. The remaining amount was returned to the U.S. Treasury.
“We hope that the Committee can understand the frustration and disillusionment of cash-strapped farmers who lost thousands of dollars expecting financial support that was never provided,” the letter reads.
Gillibrand was one of the first to address the issue, pressing Vilsack to refund farmers for all DMPP premiums and fees in July. Both Gillibrand and Schumer have also joined senators to urge Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan to provide dairy farmers with any additional necessary support in an effort to assist the nationwide agricultural community.