Calls on Farm Aid’s farmer hotline have increased 500% this year, mostly due to the dairy crisis, which has farmers earning about half what it costs them to produce milk. Farm Aid has connected dairy farmers from across the country and they’ve conducted media interviews and rallies to call attention to this issue. Tomorrow, Thursday Aug. 27, there will be a rally in Wooster, Ohio. If you’re in the area and would like to show your support for dairy farmers and a local supply of fresh, safe milk, please contact the Ohio Farmers Union for more information at 888-610-4400. To understand how a dairy farmer becomes an organizer dedicated to fighting for something in which he believes, check out this profile of Jerry Harvey, an Iowa dairy farmer who picked up the phone this winter to call Farm Aid and say, “What can I do to help other dairy farmers?”
To do our part, Farm Aid collected more than 13,000 signatures asking Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to institute a floor price that covers the farmer’s cost of production. We delivered those petitions to the Secretary in person in June. While Vilsack was well aware of the issue, he has not yet honored our request. In July, the USDA announced that they would increase the milk support price temporarily (bringing the price paid to farmers up by a little more than a dollar, not nearly enough to come even close to their cost of production). Congress passed legislation to increase the price support going forward in the 2010 agriculture appropriations bill. But these measures fall far short and have yet to have a significant impact on family dairy farmers or the milk market. Farm Aid continues to push for a floor price that takes into account the cost of production as a first step in the effort to reform the dairy industry.
As we mentioned in our update on farm foreclosure protection, Senators Feingold and Gillibrand have pushed USDA to raise the floor price for milk. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has also spoken out on the issue, with a letter to Secretary Vilsack addressing not just the price issue, but the issue of imports that undercut American farmers and price manipulation by giant processors, such as Dean and Dairy Farmers of America. Farm Aid is very happy to hear the news that the Department of Justice will be working with the USDA to investigate corporate concentration in agriculture, specifically in dairy, seeds and meatpacking. We’ll be working with our partners to make sure that family farmers are well-represented at the concentration workshops the DOJ/USDA will be hosting this winter. The floor price we’re pushing for is an immediate requirement to keep family farmers from selling off their herds and retiring from dairy for good or, in the worst case, losing their farms. There remains much work to be done to reform the entire dairy system and the DOJ/USDA workshops are another step in the right direction.
To sum up our 2009 policy work, while we continue to work on the issues of dairy, credit and foreclosure protection (remember, change comes slowly!), we’re encouraged by the efforts of the USDA and Congress to listen to family farmers and take a look at policy with family farmers in mind. The Obama Administration’s Rural Tour listening sessions, led by the USDA, are another step in the right direction to ensure that we’re all working together to create a family-farm food system that grows healthy food, strong communities, economic prosperity and good health for ourselves and our planet. If you can, check out one of the Rural Tour stops; our policymakers need to hear from all of us—farmers and eaters alike.