04.14.10

Leahy Enlists Bipartisan Support In Urging Further Steps To Ease Continuing Dairy Crisis

Senators from two leading dairy states – Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) – are heading a new effort to urge USDA actions to ease the dairy price crisis that continues to squeeze the nation’s dairy farmers.

Leahy, with Kohl, is leading the bipartisan effort in which 22 senators from across the country and from every region signed a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, urging him to use all existing programs and resources to help struggling dairy producers and to bolster support prices for cheese and nonfat dried milk products through the Dairy Product Price Support Program. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joined in signing the letter.

In their letter to Vilsack, the senators said, “Spring planting season is upon us and quick action is needed to provide dairy farmers with critical assistance.  We ask that the USDA use all existing authorities to assist our struggling dairy producers.”

Leahy and Kohl sent the letter to coincide with this week’s first meeting in Washington of USDA’s new Dairy Advisory Committee, which Vilsack formed to review farm milk price volatility and dairy farmer profitability.  The national advisory committee -- which includes Vermont dairy farmer Paul Bourbeau, who was nominated by Leahy -- will make recommendations to Vilsack on how USDA can best address these issues to meet the dairy industry's needs, both in the short and long term.

At the end of 2009, dairy prices had begun to recover to a level close to the cost of production, but in recent months prices have dipped again, and the slide is expected to continue.  Many dairy farmers are already struggling under the last harsh price drop, and now they face tough spring planting decisions.  Many are having difficulty getting access to capital and a large number may choose to shutter their farms this year if prices do not recover soon.  In 2009, USDA – as urged by Leahy and others -- raised support prices between August and October, and market prices promptly responded.

Joining Leahy and Kohl on the letter are Senators Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Robert Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Ben Cardin (D-Md.).  Leahy is the most senior member of either party on the Senate Agriculture Committee, which oversees USDA.  Lincoln currently chairs the panel, and Leahy and Harkin both are former chairs of the committee.

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