Federal dairy relief possible by Christmas: Kind hosts phone town hall meeting
Struggling dairy farmers in Wisconsin may get what they want - and need - most for Christmas: a check from the federal government.
U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, delivered that news to hundreds of west-central Wisconsin farmers Wednesday evening during a telephone town hall meeting focusing on agricultural issues.
In October, Congress approved a $350 million aid package for dairy farmers in which about $60 million was to go toward government purchases of dairy products for food programs, with the rest earmarked for direct payments to producers.
Kind said U.S. Department of Agriculture officials recently informed him that the agency was aiming to send those payments out by Christmas, providing a measure of relief for dairy farmers hit hard by low milk prices.
The market has been so bad that many dairy farmers have been losing about $75,000 per 100 cows milked, he said.
A farmer from Hollandale, southwest of Madison, pleaded with the 3rd Congressional District representative to do something to boost milk prices, maintaining conditions are the worst in the history of her family's four-generation farm.
"We do not want to quit the family farm," she said, "but how do we keep going when milk prices don't meet the expenses that we have?"
While Kind expressed optimism the emergency payments and other short-term steps would help alleviate what he described as a "crisis situation" in the dairy industry, he advocates developing a long-term solution that would bring more stability to prices and better management of supply.
"I've also been working ... to finally start developing a truly national dairy policy instead of pitting farmer against farmer and region against region, which unfortunately has been the case for too long," Kind said.
In response to a Beldenville dairy farmer, who complained about government manipulation of the marketplace and said he'd prefer to have his operation live or die through the free market, Kind said he has supported an approach that would break the connection between payments and production.
During the last two farm bill debates, Kind offered amendments on the House floor that would have reduced agricultural subsidies, mostly going to very large farms and agribusinesses, and redirected that money to conservation programs, assistance for organic farming, renewable energy programs and other areas that he believes would benefit the average farmer and rural communities. The amendments failed.
A key reason the nation needs to take action, Kind said, is to ensure farming remains an attractive occupation for young people so they will carry on family farm traditions.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that the expected U.S. milk price for November is $15 per hundredweight, or 100 pounds, up 80 cents from October, according to Wisconsin Ag Connection, a Marshfield-based agriculture Web site.
Wisconsin's milk price is forecast at $15.60 per hundredweight. That would be 90 cents higher than October's price of $14.70, but $2.20 less than November 2008.