Leahy, Sanders, Welch Press USDA For Market-Balancing Help For Struggling Dairy Farmers

Leahy, Sanders, Welch Press USDA
For Market-Balancing Help For Struggling Dairy Farmers

(THURSDAY, July 28, 2016) – On Thursday Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Representative Joe Courtney (CT-02), Senator Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), joined by a bipartisan coalition of 57 other members of the House and Senate that includes Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.), sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack asking for assistance for dairy producers struggling with declining milk prices. Specifically, the lawmakers are asking for the USDA to use its existing authorities to expand and maintain U.S. domestic markets, encourage the domestic consumption of dairy products, and help dairy farmers through this financial crisis. Leahy is a leading member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a former chairman of the panel.

Vermont’s dairy sector brings $2.2 billion in economic activity to the state each year, and dairy businesses invest more than $500 million to support Vermont’s agricultural economy. These are dollars that support local jobs that keep families rooted in Vermont, and supporting the Green Mountain State’s unique rural way of life while supporting local economies. Vermont provides 63 percent of the milk produced in New England. Farm milk prices have dropped 40 percent since 2014 due to multiple events -- from an increase in U.S. production levels, to changes in the European Union’s regulation of milk production, and a drop in the export market. In vastly different dairy market regions of the United States, farmers are facing similar margin shortfalls while still adjusting to changes in federal dairy support programs from the 2014 Farm Bill. The Secretary of Agriculture has the authority, under the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act, to expand and maintain U.S. domestic markets. By taking such action, the USDA can make an immediate market injection to directly and equally support struggling dairy farmers nationwide.

In a joint statement, Leahy, Sanders and Welch said: “Our dairy farms and the hardworking families that keep them running in communities in Vermont and across the nation are enduring an extremely tough summer as prices have plunged to a nearly ten-year low, well below the cost of production. This comes on the heels of a very challenging spring, and we are deeply concerned that the current price forecasts remain dire for our farmers. That is why we have come together today, Democrats and Republicans from across the country, to call on USDA to act with urgency, using every tool and authority at their disposal, to help our struggling dairy farmers. They cannot wait. They need our help now.”

Bob Wellington Sr., Vice President of Agri-Mark, Inc., said: "Farm milk prices have been severely depressed since 2014 and remain well below the costs of producing it. This continues to force many hard-working farm families out of business and greatly discourages the next generation of young farmers who are needed to produce this nation's food."

Leon Berthiaume, CEO of St. Albans Cooperative Creamery, said: “Vermont and the Northeast Dairy Industry is an integral part of our economy. The viability of our dairy operations is essential in maintaining the infrastructure supporting our industry which is fragile. Our dairy farms also impact various facets of our community. We are in a very challenging price cycle for our dairy farms, which has been and looks like an extensive period. Any assistance that USDA can provide to support our industry and dairy farm families will be well received.”

The full text of the letter is available BELOW, and online at: https://www.leahy.senate.gov/download/dairy-support-letter-to-usda_july-2016


July 28, 2016

The Honorable Tom Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

We write today to express our concern about the troubling economic challenges facing U.S. dairy farmers and the entire U.S. dairy industry. We have seen farm milk prices drop forty percent since 2014 and in May the nation’s cheese stocks were recorded at their highest level since the data was first recorded in 1917. Current expectations are that the dairy market will continue to struggle with depressed prices and we seek your help as we search for ways to swiftly assist our nation’s struggling dairy farmers.

Our dairy farmers have been hit extremely hard by low farm milk prices that have resulted in sharply reduced incomes, which is placing our nation’s dairy industry in an extremely vulnerable position. A number of factors have contributed to this crisis. U.S. milk production has increased almost two percent above last year’s level, while global milk production is up significantly, partly as a result of the European Union’s decision to remove its milk production quotas and the loss of their export market to Russia. Furthermore, we are seeing an increase in production in other major milk-producing countries that have led to these depressed prices globally. All of this comes as our dairy farmers are still adjusting to the new Farm Bill, and the many changes that were made to our dairy support programs.

We are deeply concerned that U.S. dairy farmers, who are a key part of our agriculture community and agriculture economy, are in greater need of stability and support as they face these significantly lower prices, which for many are below their actual cost of production. As this industry is reeling from low prices, a glut of imports, challenges in our export markets, and poor economic growth projections we urge the USDA to use its secretarial authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act (15 U.S.C. 714c), Section 32 of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1935 (7 U.S.C. 612c), and look to past precedent for how to take action to protect all of our nation’s dairy farmers from further crisis and to aid in the expansion and maintenance of domestic markets. We encourage USDA to take any and all actions available in order to make an immediate market injection and offer financial assistance that will directly support U.S. dairy farmers equally, while being cautious to not stimulate overproduction further.

The family business of dairy farming has long been woven into our nation’s agricultural history. Across the country, in all 50 states, dairy farms large and small are economic drivers providing local jobs and local products. During the 2009 dairy collapse, we saw far too many families have to sell off their cows and close the doors for good. Through the support of USDA, we can hopefully prevent many farms from needing to make that same difficult decision today and we hope you will work to support all of our dairy farmers across the country.

We look forward to working closely with you in determining the best course of action to take in managing the current dairy industry financial crisis. Thank you for taking the time to address this important matter.


Sen. Patrick Leahy
Sen. Robert P. Casey, Jr.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin
Sen. Kelly A. Ayotte
Sen. Barbara Boxer
Sen. Richard Blumenthal
Sen. Sherrod Brown
Sen. Maria Cantwell
Sen. Susan M. Collins
Sen. Al Franken
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp
Sen. Angus S. King, Jr.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Sen. Edward J. Markey
Sen. Claire McCaskill
Sen. Jeffrey A. Merkley
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy
Sen. Jack Reed
Sen. Bernard Sanders
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen
Sen. Jon Tester
Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse
Sen. Ron Wyden
Rep. Joe Courtney
Rep. Lou Barletta
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici
Rep. Chris Collins
Rep. Jim Costa
Rep. Ryan A. Costello
Rep. John K. Delaney
Rep. Suzan K. DelBenne
Rep. Elizabeth H. Esty
Rep. Christopher P. Gibson
Rep. Andy Harris
Rep. John Katko
Rep. Mike Kelly
Rep. Ron Kind
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick
Rep. Ann McLane Kuster
Rep. James R. Langevin
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney
Rep. Tom Marino
Rep. James P. McGovern
Rep. Patrick Meehan
Rep. Tim Murphy
Rep. Richard E. Neal
Rep. Richard M. Nolan
Rep. Collin C. Peterson
Rep. Chellie Pingree
Rep. Mark Pocan
Rep. Kurt Schrader
Rep. Jason Smith
Rep. Elise M. Stefanik
Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson
Rep. Timothy J. Walz
Rep. Peter Welch

# # # # #

Press Contact

Press Contact
David Carle: 202-224-3693