Dairy 'herd' protests in D.C.
WASHINGTON -- Small dairy farmers donned cow suits July 14 in Washington to protest that that they had been excluded from a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on plummeting raw milk prices, and House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Mi...
WASHINGTON -- Small dairy farmers donned cow suits July 14 in Washington to protest that that they had been excluded from a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on plummeting raw milk prices, and House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., dropped in on the hearing to announce that the subcommittee should hold two more hearings before Congress' August break.
Milk prices have dropped by half within a year, and dairy farmers with operations of all sizes have said they are in dire financial trouble. The Agriculture Department already has bought nonfat dry milk and authorized export subsidies, but the farmers say they need more help to stave off bankruptcy.
Peterson said national farm groups should be invited to one of the hearings and that another hearing should examine the impact of international trade on the dairy situation. House Agriculture Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Subcommittee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., said the other hearings already are in the works.
The National Family Farm Coalition organized the protest. The National Farmers Union did not participate in the protest, but NFU lobbyist Katy Ziegler Thomas said in an e-mail that "a lot of our folks were surprised and discouraged that no producer organizations were invited to testify."
Only Agriculture Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services James Miller, House members and dairy groups were invited to testify at the July 14 hearing.
Miller testified that dairy herds are dropping in size, but that USDA does not expect the dairy industry to reach a "break even" point this year. With Peterson's backing, USDA already has bought dairy products and provided export subsidies, but Miller did not announce any additional assistance.
'Regional war' concerns
Speaking with reporters outside the hearing room, Peterson said he thinks USDA "is about at the end of the road" in actions the agency can take to help the industry and that he hopes public hearings with come with policy alternatives "we can rally around."
Peterson also said that he sees regional conflicts over dairy developing as they have in the past and that he wants to avoid "regional wars" among dairy producers.
Tom Wakefield, a Bedford, Pa., farmer representing the National Milk Producers Federation, repeated the milk producers' proposal that USDA temporarily increase the purchase prices for cheese and nonfat dry milk under the price support program. Miller said USDA is considering that request, but has made no decision.
The International Dairy Foods Association, which represents dairy processors, said forward contracting is an important risk management tool for farmers, but that the dairy program interferes with the use of risk management tools. Although the decline in exports is one of the reasons dairy prices have plummeted, IDFA also testified that overseas demands offer most of the opportunities for the U.S. dairy industry in the future.
But Peterson said a $10-per-hundredweight milk price "is not a help to anybody." Peterson added, "We got too carried away with this export market. You can't rely on it."