Wisconsin Farmers Union, other ag groups calling for action on milk prices

The Wisconsin Farmers Union is joining 52 other ag groups in calling on Congress and the USDA to help boost milk prices.

“The nation’s dairy farmers are again in dire straits, just like we were in the 1980s,” said Jim Goodman, Wisconsin dairy farmer and board president of National Family Farm Coalition. “Proposed safety nets are totally inadequate and without real long-term market reform, dairy farmers will continue to lose their farms.”

The top request is setting a floor price of $20 per hundredweight for milk used to manufacture dairy products. This would bring prices more in line with the USDA’s estimated price for milk production, which is $22 per hundredweight.

According to a letter from WFU and other groups — including Wisconsin’s Family Farm Defenders — the average price for milk dairy farmers receive is $15 per hundredweight or less, about 30 percent below the cost of production.

Advocates say this price floor could provide emergency relief to farmers, but add it shouldn’t be seen as a permanent solution to the Federal Milk Marketing Order’s pricing structure.

These ag groups say farmers are being forced out of the business due to inefficiencies in this structure, as well as other factors: dairy handlers taking milk from large operations outside of the region rather than local farmers; and the absence of a meaningful dairy safety net.

On top of the floor price, advocates are calling for: creating a milk product purchasing initiative; placing a moratorium on Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding and federal loans for concentrated animal feeding operations; holding hearings on the crisis; and starting a supply management program.

This type of supply management program was outlined in the Federal Milk Marketing Improvement Act of 2011, which was proposed with support from agricultural groups but failed to become law.

“These common sense provisions protect against market price drops due to oversupply and ensure dairy farmers a price based on their cost of production, allowing them to provide fair wages to their workers and support their local economies,” the groups wrote.

According to the letter, much EQIP funding goes to new or expanding CAFOs, which exacerbates the situation of overproduction and low prices. Authors note when similar oversupply has happened in the past, the USDA has suspended programs for construction of new facilities.

In 1999, the agency suspended all direct and guaranteed loan financing for the construction of hog facilities in fear of these loans worsening the oversupply crisis and low prices hitting the hog industry at the time. The ag groups say the same should be done today for dairy CAFOs.

“The current price crisis facing family dairy farmers is not simply bad luck; it is the result of bad policy,” they wrote. “The emergency fixes outlines above are critical, but without additional long-term solutions, cyclical crisis situations will continue.”

See the letter: http://nffc.net/index.php/2018dairycrisis/

–By Alex Moe