Vt. Politicians Urge Dairy Farmers to Use Price Protection Help

Associated Press
Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Montpelier — Vermont’s top politicians on Tuesday urged dairy farmers to take advantage of a program designed to help keep them in business when milk prices are low.

Republican Gov. Phil Scott, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders held a news conference at the Statehouse in Montpelier to address changes to the federal dairy price protection program and new state support to help farmers pay premiums.

“We encourage them to sit down, do the math and consider whether the change made could put dollars in their pockets, because according to some economist these changes could help our small and medium farms,” Scott said.

The federal program is voluntary and functions as insurance for farmers when milk prices drop. Enrolled farmers receive financial assistance when the difference between the milk price and the average feed cost falls below a certain amount selected by the farmer.

Scott said $450,000 has been allocated in the budget to help farmers pay for the program. Scott vetoed the budget bill on Friday, but said there is no dispute over funding the program and that it will be included in any budget bill he signs.

Leahy acknowledged that farmers may be apprehensive after past versions of the programs did little to help farmers when prices fluctuated.

“This is a new and improved margin protection program. I fought very hard, in both the agriculture and appropriations committees, because of complaints I heard directly from Vermont farmers,” Leahy said.

Officials said only about a third of Vermont dairies are currently signed up for the program, but they hope that number will climb as the deadline approaches.

Leahy, Sanders and Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch pushed for changes at the federal level to protect one of Vermont’s legacy industries.

“Nearly 300 dairy farms have gone out of business in the last decade. And what’s happening now to Vermont dairy should be of concern not only to farmers but to everyone in the state of Vermont,” Sanders said.

There were over 1,000 dairy farms in the state in 2010, but that number has dropped to just over 700 this year. Dairy farming is a $2.2 billion industry in the state and employs between up to 7,000 people.