Agriculture, Nutrition and Dairy
Vermont's Farmers are a critical part of the state's economy, history, culture, and future. From centuries-old dairy farms to year-old organic production farms, many Vermonters depend on our lands for their livelihood. As the most senior member, and former Chairman, of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Leahy has been a long-time champion for Vermont agriculture, anti-hunger and environmental priorities.
Because of his efforts, the 2008 Farm Bill expanded the basic safety net for dairy farmers with the Milk Income Loss Compensation (MILC) program, brought to Vermont record levels of funding and wider access to farmland conservation programs that have become crucial engines in the cleanup of Lake Champlain, and dramatically increased support for food shelves and the Food Stamp program. The 2008 Farm Bill also offered additional support to help farmers make the transition to the booming organic sector, a program Senator Leahy fathered in the 1990 Farm Bill. Senator Leahy's Farms for the Future program -- now the Farmland Protection Program, which was created in the 1990 Farm Bill -- has helped preserve more than 250 Vermont farms and has permanently protected over 533,000 acres of working farmland across the country.
In Vermont, the dairy industry is a pillar of the state’s economy, culture and landscape. Though dairy farmers have long contended with the volatility of milk prices -- even more than they have had to adjust to changing weather -- today Vermont’s dairy farmers face very uncertain times. Price volatility as created dramatic highs and lows that no one thought the industry would ever see. The fact that the cost of production continues to rise only compounds the problem, and has increased the gap between what it costs our farmers to produce milk and what they are paid for that milk.
Not just in Vermont, but across the country, our bedrock dairy industry is in need of reform. Senator Leahy has been leading the charge in Washington to support Vermont’s dairy farmers through these difficult times. At the peak of the dairy crisis in 2009 he led a coalition of twenty Senators to petition Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack to support a significant short-term hike in the floor price the federal government pays for milk and dairy products. This raise in the floor price helped to reverse the plummeting milk prices that were threatening family farms in Vermont and across the nation. While this was a temporary solution to the low prices, Senator Leahy remains hopeful that dairy farmers across the country can come together and agree on a long-term solution in the 2012 Farm Bill that will help not only Vermont’s dairy farms, but also those in Wisconsin, California, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and everywhere in between.
As the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Leahy has helped to shine the spotlight on antitrust issues in the dairy industry. His long running concern is that concentration of economic power in U.S. agriculture in growing larger with fewer corporations and opportunities for the markets to protect consumers, farmers and smaller businesses.
Senator Leahy first became involved in the organic movement well over a decade ago when he heard from farmers in Vermont that were confident that there was a significant market for high quality farm goods produced in an environmentally friendly way. They were right. The organic industry is the fastest growing sector of American agriculture, and is especially strong in Vermont which boasts the highest number of certified organic farms and certified acreage per capita in the nation.
Senator Leahy realized early that the organic revolution would only be possible if "organic" really meant something that consumers could understand and trust. That is why he wrote the Organic Foods Production Act, which passed as part of the 1990 Farm Bill and created strong and credible standards so that now, twenty years later, consumers know that when they buy something "certified organic," it really is. He has pushed USDA to ensure that the designation “organic” should always certify that the product contains only ingredients that are not trans-genetically modified and are grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Any deviation from this definition risks undermining the entire program and all that farmers have invested in organic farming.
In the 2008 Farm Bill, Senator Leahy helped to make the organic transition a realistic option for more farmers in Vermont and all over the country by directly assisting producers in defraying the substantial costs of implementing conservation practices when transiting to organic production.
Hunger and Nutrition
Senator Leahy has helped to lead the fight in Congress against hunger and is a longtime supporter of federal nutrition programs including the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly referred to as Food Stamps). With growing uncertainty in the economy, rising food costs and shortages at food banks and emergency food pantries, far too many Americans are unable to put adequate amounts of healthy food on the table for their families. Senator Leahy recognizes the important role nutritional foods play in healthy lifestyles, especially for children, and is dedicated to doing all he can so that no one in Vermont or America, young or old, has to worry about where their next meal is going to come from. During the difficult budget negotiations in Congress he will continue to fight for these critical programs.
- Statement Of Senator Leahy (D-Vt.) The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 Senate Floor, May 21, 2013
- Leahy: MILC Payments Released For Vermont Dairy Farmers, Just In Time For Spring Planting, May 16, 2013
- Leahy: Senate Farm Bill Includes New Dairy Program And Other Features Important To Vermont, May 14, 2013