A couple months ago, an Iowa dairy farmer named Jerry Harvey called the Farm Aid hotline to find out what he could do to help dairy farmers. He told us, “I’m just a farmer, I’ve never done anything like this before, but we’ve got to do something or all these guys are going to go out of business.” Jerry had been gathering a group of local farmers who wanted to call attention to the fact that dairy prices are so low, dairy farmers are being paid about one-half of what it costs them to produce milk. At this rate, the National Family Farm Coalition has forecast, by the end of the year only 12,000 of our 60,000 dairy farmers will be left standing. And we milk drinkers may lose our source of good, local, trusted milk.
Joel, Farm Aid’s hotline coordinator, gave Jerry some contacts for local Iowa farm groups and a few regional and national ones working on dairy issues. Since then, Joel has spoken with Jerry several times, and Jerry has made strong contacts with several Farm Aid allies, including the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Family Farm Defenders, and the Center for Rural Affairs. Today, a rally that Jerry helped to organize will gather hundreds of dairy farmers on the Iowa state Capitol to call attention to the drastic drop in milk prices over the past five months. In the past year, dairy farmers have seen the price they are paid for their milk drop 44 percent, the largest single drop since the Great Depression, according to the National Family Farm Coalition.
The sudden crash in the dairy market has sent family dairy farmers from across the country reeling as input costs such as feed, fuel, fertilizer and electricity and water have remained high, while the price farmers are being paid has dropped from $19.10 per cwt (per hundred pounds) in February 2008 to $11.60 per cwt in the same month this year.
According to Jerry Harvey, “This has reached a crisis point in rural America.”
“Prices have dropped so low that it’s impossible for dairy farmers to pay their bills and many face losing their farms if something isn’t done immediately to make up for this unnatural drop in prices,” said Harvey who milks 70 head in Southeastern Iowa.
Willie Nelson, Farm Aid President, sent a statement of support to Jerry Harvey and his fellow farmers:
Farm Aid is honored to stand up for America’s family farmers. This morning’s rally represents a struggle for what’s right— not just for farmers but for all of us who eat.
I want to thank every dairy farmer here this morning and every single farmer who has come to lend support. Those of us who want local dairy farmers providing fresh milk for our families–we stand by you.
America cannot afford to lose another farmer. We need you. But we know dairy farmers cannot afford to produce our milk for less than half it’s worth.
Today you are making sure that everyone knows that dairy farmers are crucial; that every family farmer deserves a fair and stable price; that without the hard work of milking cows morning and night, we will have to rely on milk from who-knows-where containing who-knows-what!
Right now is the time to change policy to create a fair and just agriculture and food system that benefits our family farmers, our communities, and the good health of everyone who eats. This is what we’re working for. And we’re going to stick with it til the cows come home!
Organizers expect between 300 to 500 people to attend the rally, which is scheduled to run from 11 am to 1 pm at the Iowa State House in Des Moines. The rally is located at the western entrance mall area near the Lincoln and Tad Monument. If you’re in the area, please show your support for our dairy farmers!
We’ll post an update with photos after the rally.