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Column: Struggling New Hampshire Dairy Farms Need a Helping Hand

For the Valley News
Published: 1/11/2017 9:00:07 PM
Modified: 1/11/2017 9:00:15 PM

New Hampshire’s character and beauty has always been deeply rooted in our state’s rich agricultural history. With dairy farms spread throughout the Connecticut and Merrimack River Valleys, Granite Staters are frequently reminded of the positive impact these farms have on our communities, economy and way of life. Growing up in New Hampshire, my family always had farm fresh milk delivered right to our home. My husband Brad and I raised our sons on fresh milk, cheese and yogurt from local farms. We have dairy farmers to thank for nutritious food and a beautiful landscape we enjoy across the Granite State.

However, New Hampshire’s dairy farms are facing significant challenges that threaten the future of this critical industry for years to come. New Hampshire lost 19 dairy farms last year. Dairy farmers have experienced record-low milk prices as a result of troubling domestic and international market conditions. Last summer’s record drought has strained production and increased feed costs for New England farmers, while Russia’s embargo of some European products has caused instability in Europe’s markets and has driven prices down.

This situation only becomes more concerning when looking at enrollment in the Margin Protection Program. the federal insurance program that is supposed to provide financial assistance to enrolled farmers when times are tough. The MPP collected $73 million nationwide in premium payments in 2015, yet USDA returned just $700,000 to producers who purchased coverage. New Hampshire producers are slipping through the safety net that is intended to protect them during challenging years. It’s unacceptable, and I have called on USDA to consider short-term funding reimbursements to enrolled farmers as a way to help shrinking farm incomes.

Granite State dairy farmers will be the first to tell you the MPP simply isn’t working for them. As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, I have worked with Republicans and Democrats to address concerns surrounding the program. First and foremost, USDA must implement a state-by-state average feed cost formula that fairly represents the higher feed costs incurred by New England farmers. Secondly, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) should conduct a state-by-state survey to gather accurate data about feed costs; this data can then be used by USDA to implement a fairer feed cost formula. This past fall, I called on House and Senate appropriators to require these commonsense measurements.

Due to the severe drought last summer, feed cost prices have skyrocketed in New Hampshire and it is imperative that these high prices are included in any USDA formula. While the Appropriations Committee did not move forward with an omnibus spending bill in the 114th Congress, I will continue to advocate that this NASS survey is completed before the next farm bill.

In addition to these requests, I have urged my colleagues in Congress to lift a provision in existing law that limits the Secretary of Agriculture’s ability to provide emergency support to dairy farmers. By lifting this funding prohibition, the secretary will have more flexibility to alleviate the crisis that New Hampshire dairy producers are facing. Agriculture is an unpredictable industry, and it is imperative that we give the secretary the authority to use his or her best judgment to provide relief to struggling farmers. As a new administration begins to take form, I am eager to work with the incoming Secretary of Agriculture and my colleagues in Congress to identify additional steps that can be taken to support American dairy producers.

Congresswoman Annie Kuster of Hopkinton is serving her third term as the representative for New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District and is a member of the House Agriculture Committee.

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