Blog | August 23, 2016

Unfair Pricing: The Dairy Farmer Crisis

by Jennie Msall

Over the years, Farm Aid has written about the unique struggles that dairy farmers face. Despite organizing efforts by dairy farm groups to make changes in the industry, dairy farmers are still in crisis, riddled by many of the issues that plagued this industry for decades: an unfair pricing system that is heavily manipulated by major dairy corporations at the expense of farmers. Dairy farmers are often paid prices far below their cost of production—leaving them at a loss each time they sell their milk.

Dairy prices peaked in 2014, but since then have plummeted by 55 percent and are now at the lowest levels since 2009. As the Farm Advocate on staff, I am reminded weekly about the challenges dairy farmers are facing. In a given week, I can hear from several dairy farmers who are struggling to keep their farms. Most recently I connected with Robin Fitch, who is both a dairy farmer in Herkimer County, New York, and an activist for agriculture policies that will help dairy farmers.

“Family farms can’t go on like this. We need to get a fair price for our milk or we will only have factory farms.”

The numbers Robin shared with me in our first call illustrated how much the dairy price has dropped. With the current price, her family’s farm income has dropped by 45% this year, all while her costs continue to rise. Her family gets $12 to $14 per hundred weight of milk, but it costs her $23 per hundred weight to produce. As she struggles to keep her family farm, Robin has turned to activism in an attempt to save it. She is involved with National Family Farmer Coalition and Progressive Agriculture Organization, and regularly writes to politicians about the need for better dairy policies. She has also been part of press conferences that call attention to this urgent situation.

Robin says, “We need a voice that Washington hears because we as small farms do not have the time or money to lobby in D.C. Family farms can’t go on like this. We need to get a fair price for our milk or we will only have factory farms.”

Fixing the milk pricing system is the only way to address the needs of small dairy farms. Robin specifically focuses on the Federal Milk Marketing Improvement Act as a way to fix pricing. This act would require the Secretary of Agriculture to determine the price of all milk by using the national average cost of production. It would also create a milk supply program that would keep the supply of milk in line with market needs, so that an excess supply doesn’t drive down the price. This bill was introduced by Congress in 2011, but has never been enacted. Through her work with the Progressive Agriculture Organization, Robin is one of many dairy farmers urging her Congress members to support this bill.

If you are a dairy farmer who wants to get involved in changing dairy policies, we partner with these national organizations who are fighting for a more just dairy industry at the federal policy level:

National Family Farm Coalition

National Farmers Union

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