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December 09, 2016
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Failure of the House Farm Bill

While milk processors should have some say in what they pay for milk, they should not have total say. Since the Reagan administration, U.S. dairy farmers have been systematically short changed on the value of their milk. Before then, when a consumer spent a dollar on dairy products 53 cents of that dollar went to the farmer; currently this has shrunk to about 25 cents, yet proportionately, it costs no more to process or retail dairy products.

A reformed Federal Milk Price Formula—indexed for current cost of production and reflecting prices paid by consumers—would be better for all concerned. Then USDA would referee and enforce carefully crafted rules designed to maintain a level price-discovery playing field between farmers and processors.

The nutritional value of dairy products to the national diet is essential. It is grossly unfair to expect dairy farm families to labor below minimum wage, often no wage at all, to keep dairy product prices low in supermarkets. Taxpayer money should not have to subsidize consumption; consumers pay enough for dairy products. The money is in the marketplace; it simply needs to be fairly distributed to reflect the essential contribution of dairy farmers.

Responsibility for economically priced dairy products calls for equal effort from all involved and should not be arbitrarily dumped on the nation’s dairy farmers while dairy processors and grocery retailers continue to chuckle all the way to the bank.

[Wilson, 66, has retired from 40 years of dairy farming on a small hill farm in New York’s Chautauqua County. He is a regular contributor to The Milkweed, a national dairy industry monthly.]