Monday, February 15, 2010
By Nancy Remsen, Free Press Staff Writer • Sunday, February 14, 2010
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Vermont dairy farmers that the long-term remedy for the financial roller coaster they are riding will require them to find common ground with their counterparts across the country.
“The time has come for the industry to come together,” Vilsack said Saturday during a one-day swing through the northwestern corner of the state.
He offered a similar message about the need for farmers to figure out how to coexist when he spoke at the winter conference of the Northeast Organic Farm Association of Vermont.
Speaking first at a dairy town meeting organized by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and later at the annual meeting of the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery Inc., Vilsack listed the short-term assistance he’d put in place to help dairy farmers struggling to remain in business when the price they get for milk falls far short of covering their expenses.
• USDA authorized more than $290 million in loss assistance payments.
• The agency is helping dairy farmers by purchasing $60 million in cheese and cheese products for nutrition programs.
• The agency reactivated its export incentive program to help farmers compete in the global marketplace.
“Those are temporary measures that hopefully stem the bleeding,” he said. The remedy is something the dairy industry has to find for itself, but Vilsack said he wants to help.
He has set up a Dairy Advisory Committee with a two-year charter. He wants it to convene in the next 30 days to begin evaluating how to change the dairy pricing system to smooth out the boom and bust cycles.
Vilsack acknowledged that the pricing problem isn’t new, although the bust cycles seem to be coming more frequently. What is new, he said, “is that lobbying for regional solutions isn’t the answer. We have to look nationally.”
Bob Foster, whose family has dairy and energy operations in Middlebury, painted a bleak picture of dairy farming in Vermont this year. He predicted the number of dairy farms to drop below 1,000 — “if something isn’t done.”