CAPITAL REGION -- With no end in sight to the low-price crisis in the dairy industry, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Tuesday called for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use emergency powers to give farms a quick financial boost.
She is urging U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to use emergency powers to directly pay the nation's dairy farmers $300 million, an amount she said would match a recent emergency bailout for cotton farmers. The payment would be about $8,000 per farm in New York state, she estimated.
"Milk prices are so low that our dairy farmers are losing money on every pound of milk they produce," Gillibrand said during a conference call. "Dairy farms are at the heart of New York’s rural economy, but milk prices are so low that more than 1,200 dairy farms have shut down in just the last decade, and many more are on the brink of failing. This is a crisis right in our own backyard."
New York is the nation's third-largest dairy-producing state, with more than 4,400 dairies producing nearly 15 billion pounds of milk each year.
The price of milk fluctuates monthly and is currently around $16 per hundred-weight -- a level below typical production costs. Farmers have said prices have been too low for at least the past four years, and some acknowledge that overproduction of milk is the underlying issue.
The prolonged crisis, however, has led to farmers whose families, in many cases, have been on the farm for generations suffering from high levels of stress and depression.
In Saratoga County, the 22-year-old Sundae on the Farm program -- generally an optimism-filled Sunday afternoon on a local farm intended to educate non-farmers about the details of farm operations -- won't be held this year, in favor of "a private educational night of discussion to present issues, challenges and opportunities facing Saratoga County Agriculture now and into the future," according to the county's Cornell Cooperative Extension office.
Gillibrand earlier this year proposed a high minimum price for milk be set through a revised federal price insurance plan.
Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, wrote a letter to Perdue on Tuesday outling her request. She said she has also spoken to Perdue about her request -- but her effectiveness is probably diminished by her open opposition to President Donald Trump -- who appointed Perdue -- and many of his policies.
New York Farm Bureau will evaluate her proposal, spokesman Steve Ammerman said.
"The attention the senator continues to place on the dairy crisis is much appreciated," Ammerman said. "This is an emergency for many of the state’s dairy farmers, who are in search of relief from four years of low milk prices. With the Farm Bill up for renewal this year, we are hopeful to see a stronger, more flexible safety net included in final passage that will address the long-term needs of New York’s dairy farmers."
Perdue, a former governor of Georgia, visited Kings-Ransom Farm in Saratoga County in November for a round-table discussion with area farmers.
The crisis is occurring as Congress works on a new multi-year Farm Bill, which will set policies and funding for a variety of agricultural programs.
In an online post Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, said the proposed bill includes requests she made for a feed-costs study and to increase the top Margin Protection Program (MPP) coverage level from $8 to $9 per hundredweight. She said the bill would also reduce margin protection insurance payment premiums on every farmer’s first 5 million pounds of milk produced annually. She said that's roughly the annual production of a 220-cow farm.