November 16, 2011 —
One thing you’ve got to admit about Senator Bob Casey is that he doesn’t give up. Casey is proposing two pieces of legislation directed at the plight of dairy farmers.
The first bill is called the Federal Milk Improvement Act of 2011, numbered S-1640, and the second is a bill called the Dairy Improvement Act, numbered S-1682.
Bill S-1682 is being opposed by Arden Tweksbury of the Progressive Agriculture Organization (ProAg), a leading dairy farmer advocate. “It doesn’t help dairy farmers,” Tweksbury simply said without explanation. “The bill that we support with enthusiasm is Casey’s Federal Milk Improvement of 2011, S-1640. This is the only dairy bill on the docket that makes any sense.”
Casey’s efforts in S-1640 are to provide a fair pricing system for milk farmers. This legislative effort, which got nowhere in the Senate last year, was made in conjunction with then Senator Arlen Specter.
Even with Specter gone, Casey is on the front lines battling for a simple concept like including the cost of production in formulating the price it costs a dairy farmer to produce milk for the market. “The cost of production should be an essential factor in determining what a farmer gets for his labor,” Casey has been saying for the last few years.
Brian Smith, a former dairyman, chairman of the Wayne County Commissioners and a former member of the Dairy Farmers of America board, the local coop in Northeast Pennsylvania, agrees. “As a businessman, it doesn’t make sense to sell your product for less than it cost you to make it, and then buy an insurance policy to try to make up the difference when all you’re doing is losing money.”
The milk coops and other milk businesses are pushing farmers to buy the insurance policy that Smith is referring to. “Like every other business, a farmer should be given the opportunity to make a living on his labor,” Smith said. “The processor’s coops are the ones that are making it difficult to adopt a pricing system that makes sense to the farmers.”
“In our opinion, Casey’s bill is the only proposed dairy legislation that will allow the average dairy farmer to cover their cost of operation and return a profit to his dairy farm,” Tewksbury said.
On October 26, over 26 members and friends of ProAg traveled to Washington, DC. The ProAg members anticipate that some of the senators that had their aides present for the briefing will join forces with Senator Casey and start to move S-1640 forward, Tewksbury said.
“Small farms are finding it difficult to make it with the recent heavy rain and high labor costs with this pricing system,” said Waymart dairy farmer Joe Davitt. “The pricing system is grossly unfair. The coops aren’t the ones that determine prices. It’s the Chicago Mercantile Exchange that does and no one really knows how the pricing system works.”
Both Smith and Davitt agree that if farms continue to go out of business, milk products will come from other countries like China and Brazil.
“Casey’s 1640 bill is the only answer we have right now and it has to get more cosponsors so that it passes,” Tewksbury said. “Call your congressman and senator and get them to support it.”