Shaheen Leads Push Urging Critical Assistance for Dairy Farmers

October 14, 2016

**Letter to Senate Appropriations Committee is cosigned by a bipartisan group of 17 Senators**

**Letter points to low milk prices, overhead costs, drought and failure of safety net program as reasons for farm closures across the country**

Copy of the signed letter available here

(Washington, DC)— U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) sent a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee leaders urging the committee to allow critical assistance for dairy farmers in appropriations legislation for Fiscal Year 2017. In the letter addressed to Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Vice Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), as well as Chairman Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Ranking Member Jeff Merkley (D-OR) of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies, Shaheen and a bipartisan group of 17 Senators highlighted the nationwide struggle of dairy farmers and the limited ability of the Secretary of Agriculture to respond to the crisis.

The letter highlights the alarming closures of dairy farms in a number of states as milk prices have dropped dramatically and dairy production costs continue to rise. Nineteen of New Hampshire’s 120 dairy farms have closed in the past year, and the remaining farms are desperately in need of assistance. The ongoing drought in the Northeast has further hurt corn and hay crops in the state, pushing feed costs in the region even higher.

In their letter, the Senators request that appropriations legislation not contain restrictions on the Secretary of Agriculture’s ability to directly assist dairy farmers, which is currently the case. They also request that $3 million within the budget of the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) be designated for a survey of average feed costs by state. Furthermore, the letters asks that the Committee explore the feasibility of aiding farmers who paid into the Dairy Margin Protection Program, a safety net program that these Senators point out is not working.

The letter states in part, “Congress has severely restricted the Secretary of Agriculture’s ability to respond to this crisis. The Dairy Margin Protection Program (DMPP) has not provided the safety net for farmers that was anticipated when the program was created. There is widespread recognition that this program is not working and must be reformed, but our dairy farmers cannot wait for several years until a new Farm Bill is enacted. Many more will go out of business in the next year if immediate support is not provided.”

The letter was signed by the following Senators: Chris Murphy (D-CT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-ME), Angus King (I-ME), Al Franken (D-MN), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Full text of the letter is below:

October 13, 2016

Dear Chairman Cochran, Vice Chairwoman Mikulski, Chairman Moran and Ranking Member Merkley:

We write to urge you provide critical assistance for our nation’s dairy farmers in appropriations legislation for Fiscal Year 2017. 

As you know, dairy farmers across the country are struggling to stay in business.  This year alone, dairy farms in a number of states have been forced to close at alarmingly high levels.  Milk prices have dropped by more than 40 percent over the past two years, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicts low prices to continue for the near future.  Dairy production costs continue to rise, and severe drought in some regions of the country has driven these costs up further. 

To make matters worse, Congress has severely restricted the Secretary of Agriculture’s ability to respond to this crisis.  The Dairy Margin Protection Program (DMPP) has not provided the safety net for farmers that was anticipated when the program was created.  There is widespread recognition that this program is not working and must be reformed, but our dairy farmers cannot wait for several years until a new Farm Bill is enacted.  Many more will go out of business in the next year if immediate support is not provided.

Despite current budgetary constraints and the need for future statutory changes, we believe that there are key measures that can be taken in appropriations legislation for FY17 that will provide critical near-term support to dairy farmers and pave the way for longer-term sustainability in the industry.

Most important, we respectfully request that spending legislation for FY17 not include any provision preventing the USDA from implementing clause 3 of Section 32 of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1935 or from engaging in surplus removal or price support activities under section 5 of the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act.  Such provisions currently limit the Secretary of Agriculture’s ability to provide emergency support to dairy farmers.  Lifting this ban would allow the Secretary more flexibility to respond to the current crisis.

We further request that $3 million within the budget of the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) be designated for a survey of average feed costs by state.  NASS estimates that such a survey will take 18-24 months, so it must begin this work as soon as possible in order for its results to be ready when Congress considers the next Farm Bill.  Accurate information on regional variation in feed costs is critical for designing a program that better supports small and family farms in all regions of the country.

Additionally, we ask that the Committee explore the feasibility of aiding farmers who paid $73 million into the DMPP in 2015.  We understand that a refund of this amount may be difficult, but we hope that the Committee can understand the frustration and disillusionment of cash-strapped farmers who lost thousands of dollars expecting financial support that was never provided.  We would appreciate ongoing work and dialogue to explore solutions going forward to help these farmers.

Thank you for your consideration of these important requests.  We stand ready to work with you to help our nation’s dairy farmers during this crisis.

Sincerely,