As dairy farmers throughout the country continue to face a pressing financial crisis in their industry, dozens of members of the U.S. House of Representatives announced Wednesday that they will reform and reactivate the Congressional Dairy Farmer Caucus. The Caucus had been disbanded after the passage of the Farm Bill.
Led by Caucus Co-Chairs Reps. Joe Courtney (Conn.), Peter Welch (Vt.), Devin Nunes (Calif.) and Tim Walz (Minn.), and joined by Caucus Vice Chairs Tom Petri (Wis.), Tom Rooney (Fla.), Chris Lee (N.Y.) and Harry Teague (N.Mex.), the organization will help facilitate better interaction between elected officials and dairy producers from across the country. The bipartisan caucus will work with dairy industry leaders to reach common sense solutions to address both the current dairy crisis, as well as other issues of concern to the dairy producer community.
“Every dairy farmer in America is losing money, and a lot of money,” says Nunes.
Caucus members say sharply decreased exports, an input-cost price spike and the world-wide recession formed perform storm of economic hardship beyond producers’ control and not of their making. The legislators also cite the devastating toll these effects have had for individuals and families — in the form of suicides — as well as the ripple effect of farms going out of business felt throughout rural communities as their impetus for action.
Several members also feel that the fate of farmers is a matter of national security in that the failure of agriculture means that the U.S. would have to depend on other countries for food security.
“There is a yawning gap between milk price and the cost of production,” says Courtney. “And, no one could have anticipated what would happen to the international market for dairy products. We’re in an unprecedented situation.”
The legislators say they are encouraging Ag Secretary Vilsack to action on several fronts to ease the “universal pain” felt by dairy producers across the country. For instance, they strongly support the extension of the Dairy Export Incentive Program, as well as an emergency increase in the Milk Income Loss Contract program.
They also say they are willing to tackle the long-term challenge of the milk pricing system.
“The complexities of dairy policy, and the diverse size and scope of dairy farming in the U.S., means that we need a forum in Congress for dairy farmers to interact with their elected officials. The Dairy Farmer Caucus will help facilitate the communication between, and education of, members of Congress and the farmers they represent,” says Jerry Kozak, President and chief executive officer of National Milk Producers Federation.
The Congressional Dairy Farmer Caucus was initially started in 2006 to provide a bipartisan forum, involving both House and Senate members, to collaborate on policy issues that addressed the interests of dairy producers nationwide.
Kozak adds that a national, bipartisan organization will help build consensus on Capitol Hill on the range of issues affecting farms of all sizes in all regions. He added that the Caucus would also help NMPF and its members communicate with the variety of regulatory agencies involved in milk production, such as the USDA, the U.S Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Trade Representative, among others.
“If we bailed out the banks and bankers because they were too big to fail, are we going to ignore the farmers because they are too small to matter,” questions Welch. “Farmers aren’t looking for a hand-out; they just want to survive.”