Dairy farming is at the foundation Vermont’s economy, culture and landscape. With changes in the technology and economics of dairy farming, the number of individual dairy farms across the country has dropped dramatically over the years but Vermont continues to produce as much milk today as it ever has. Senator Leahy has worked for years to help the dairy industry confront several of their most serious challenges: volatility in milk prices, environmental stewardship and access to labor.
The price that farmers receive for their milk is entirely outside of their control and has, for decades, swung widely. Just between 2009 and 2015 prices have been as low as $12, as high as $24 and then dropped again by 30% in the span of just a few months. These cycles are devastating to dairy farmers who have very little control over their input and capital costs, which have risen steadily in recent years.
Senator Leahy has worked over the years on several approaches to mitigating the impact of these price swings on dairy farmers including the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact, the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program and most recently in the 2014 Farm Bill Margin Protection Program (MPP) for Dairy.
The MPP approach, created with input from dairy producers in Vermont, allows a farmer to pay to insure a minimum margin between the cost paid for feed and the amount the farmer is paid for milk, essentially the amount of income above costs that the farmer needs to succeed. This new program is designed to help farmers withstand the financial shock when prices drop dramatically. Farmers signed up in strong numbers at their first opportunity in December of 2014, with Vermont near the head of the pack.
During the 2014 Farm Bill debate Senator Leahy also supported a market stabilization tool to end these damaging price swings but it was stripped from the bill by the leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the price swings continue to accelerate.