08.23.17

Leahy Co-Leads Effort To Press USDA To Provide Relief To Dairy Farmers

Leahy Co-Leads Bipartisan Letter From New England Lawmakers
Urging USDA to Provide Relief To Dairy Farmers

. . . Sanders And Welch Also Are Among Signers Of Letter Urging USDA To Make Dairy Farmers Eligible For Federal Crop Insurance Program
And To Develop New Insurance Programs For Dairy Producers

(WEDNESDAY, Aug. 23, 2017) -- As dairy farmers across New England continue to struggle with historically low milk prices, Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Representatives Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) and Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.) led a bipartisan and bicameral group of 23 other lawmakers who on Wednesday urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to use its authority to provide dairy farmers with the relief and new insurance they desperately need.

In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Leahy and the other Senate and House members emphasized that safety net programs for dairy farmers, such as the Margin Protection Program (MPP), have fallen short in providing farmers adequate support. They urged the Agriculture Department to make milk an eligible commodity under the Federal Crop Insurance Program – which successfully insures farmers across the country for hundreds of different kinds of crops – and to work with USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) to develop new insurance products for dairy producers.

In their letter, Leahy and the other lawmakers wrote:  “We write today to urge the USDA to use its existing authority to provide relief to dairy farmers in New England and across the country.  Dairy farmers have had to cope with double-digit price declines year over year since 2014.  These struggles are amplified by ongoing difficulties with the MPP and a lack of other risk management options.  We urge you to utilize existing authorities to expand and enhance insurance products for dairy farmers.  We request that RMA work with the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to determine milk as a distinct agricultural commodity eligible for Federal Crop Insurance coverage. Additionally, we would urge the RMA to use existing authorities to develop additional dairy insurance products.”

In addition to Murphy, Leahy, Courtney, and Kuster, others signing the letter are:  Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Angus King (I-Maine), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), as well as Representatives David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn., Bill Keating (D-Mass.), Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), John Larson (D-Conn.), Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Richard Neal (D-Mass.), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine), Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), and Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.).

Farm milk prices have dropped almost 40 percent in the last few years, and dairy farmers in Vermont and other New England states are struggling to bring in the revenues they need to stay afloat.  Farm state lawmakers also have urged USDA to provide emergency assistance to dairy farmers and to take further steps to support New England dairy producers.

As members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Leahy, the panel’s Vice Chairman, and Murphy recently helped secure much-needed reforms to MPP as part of the FY2018 Agriculture Appropriations bill, which has been approved by the Appropriations Committee and awaits action by the full Senate.  They also helped secure $19 million for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program, as well as language supporting the Century Farms program and Food Hub Centers. 

The letter is part of a growing national effort led by dairy producers and members of Congress to press the USDA to provide more support to struggling dairy farmers.  In March the National Farmers Union, the National Milk Producers Federation, and the American Farm Bureau Federation sent a similar letter to the USDA.

The full text of the letter is available BELOW:

The Honorable Sonny Perdue
Secretary of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, D.C. 20250

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write today to urge the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to use its existing authority to provide relief to dairy farmers in New England and across the country. Specifically, we request you take necessary steps to make milk an agricultural commodity eligible for Federal Crop Insurance and ask that you work with the Risk Management Agency (RMA) to develop additional insurance products for dairy farmers.

While New England dairy farms tend to be smaller, our dairy community is doing its best to run productive operations that turn a profit. New England’s nearly 1,500 dairy farms are almost all family owned and operated. These dairy farms produced 4.25 billion pounds of milk in 2016, an increase of 68 million pounds from 2014.  Despite this growth and efficiency, dairy farmers have had to cope with double-digit price declines year over year since 2014.

These struggles are amplified by ongoing difficulties with the Margin Protection Program (MPP) and a lack of other risk management options. In 2015, over 700 New England farms enrolled in MPP buy-up coverage. The program’s failure contributed to its dramatic decline in participation. In 2017, enrollment in this buy-up coverage plummeted by 96 percent, with fewer than 30 New England farms purchasing buy-up coverage. Low signup is clear evidence that MPP isn’t providing farmers the needed risk protection. As Congress begins work to reauthorize the Farm Bill, we intend to make necessary reforms to this program.

In the meantime, we believe it’s imperative that the USDA take action to address issues created by MPP’s failure. We urge you to utilize existing authorities to expand and enhance insurance products for dairy farmers. Milk, a commodity by any measure, must be eligible for a range of policies through the Federal Crop Insurance Program.

Existing statute defines the term ‘livestock’ as the actual animal and not the product produced. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 included report language clarifying that Congress did not intend for livestock products to fall under the limitation of livestock insurance policies. Both existing statute and follow-on clarification illustrates USDA has the authority to determine livestock and livestock products are distinct commodities. We request that RMA work with the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to determine milk as a distinct agricultural commodity eligible for Federal Crop Insurance coverage. Additionally, we would urge the RMA to use existing authorities to develop additional dairy insurance products.

Thank you for considering these concerns, and we look forward to working with you in your new role.

Sincerely,

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