Tebbetts: Country needs better way to pay dairy farmers

By Anson Tebbetts

Our country needs to find a better way to pay dairy farmers. This is probably not news to many, but the devil is in the details.

Farmers nationwide work 24/7 to produce the fresh milk that becomes the cheese, butter and other dairy products that are always present, with an endless supply and many choices, in the grocery store.

However, farmers are not getting a fair price for their product. While “fair trade” is a familiar concept for international products like coffee, farmers right here at home are paid based upon an outdated, complex system that marginalizes their work and the sustainability of the working lands that we all enjoy. An oversupply of milk nationwide has resulted in suppressed milk prices for more than four years, and put many Vermont farmers into a state of economic insecurity that has forced them to make difficult choices about their future.

As part of our work toward a new, fair and predictable dairy pricing system, the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, along with many dairy farmers from our region, participated in a pricing forum in Albany, New York. Sponsored by Agri-Mark, the company’s board directed their leadership to explore new ways to pay farmers. Several proposals, which centered around an innovative milk supply and management system, arose during the day-long meeting, where farmers were heard and the critical nature of the situation was understood. We encourage you to review and comment on these proposals.

In addition to working with producer partners like Agri-Mark, St. Albans Cooperative Creamery, and Dairy Farmers of America, the agency has convened a working group comprised of farmers, lawmakers and dairy leaders to improve the system. We continue to meet and gather information and input from farmers as we define a solution. The fix is not quick, and will involve federal policy makers. Our proposals will likely need congressional and USDA approval. The lift is heavy.

Farmers, dairy producers and policymakers are on the cusp of real change, addressing this complex and overwhelming issue with energy and vision. With laser-sharp focus and commitment, we are moving to a better place, on behalf of dairy farmers, and all those who love our working lands, our state and our country.

Anson Tebbetts is the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.

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6 thoughts on “Tebbetts: Country needs better way to pay dairy farmers

  1. About 75 percent of total subsidies go to the biggest 10 percent of farming companies, including Riceland Foods Inc., Pilgrims Pride Corp., and Archer Daniels Midland. Among the “farmers” who get federal subsidies are Bruce Springsteen (who leases land to an organic farmer), Jon Bon Jovi (who owns bee colonies), former President Jimmy Carter, and billionaire media mogul Ted Turner. “The typical farmer has literally millions of dollars of wealth,” said Dan Sumner, an agricultural economist at the University of California, Davis.

  2. It would be great if farmers could make more money and keep it. If farmers are paid more for their product I can see the price of equipment and the cost of maintenance on the equipment going up. Farmers already have to pay ridiculous prices for equipment and can’t shop around for a better price because of a system created by the equipment dealers. Farmers can only buy equipment from the dealer that covers the area where their farm is located. I suppose you could buy all your equipment through auctions. Now take a look at the servicing of the equipment. Suppose some service companies charge a fee (say $300.00) just to have the mechanic show up. Then there’s parts and labor on top of that. No wonder farmers can barely keep their heads above water. Then there’s the middle man. They lock farmers into a contract for a year. When you’re in a contract the only way to make more money is to produce more which in turn can create a surplus. When it comes time to renew the contract, if there’s a glut, the farmer won’t be offered as much for their product. And so it goes, on and on.

  3. Just let me say, I don’t know how they do it !! Day in Day out …… Farmers have my respect !!

    The first problem as stated in this article will involve Federal Policymakers. Our proposals will
    likely need ” Congressional ” and ” USDA ” approval ( Pork within the Bill ) I assume.

    Heavy Load, so what have our ” Three Stooges ” done other than be on Camera !! From what
    I see they’ll promote there own agenda, so what have they done for the Farmers in our State??

    Maybe the Dairy Farmers need to take a lesson from the Petroleum Distributors on how they
    handle their products they seem to” set ” their prices at what they “want ” no matter what the
    market shows !!

  4. Stop subsidizing all farmers. Level the playing field. Let producers and consumers figure it out. Get the government out of agriculture.

    • Perhaps if we start by stopping the federal subsidies.
      “Despite the rhetoric of ‘preserving the family farm,’ the vast majority of farmers do not benefit from federal farm subsidy programs and most of the subsidies go to the largest and most financially secure farm operations. Small commodity farmers qualify for a mere pittance, while producers of meat, fruits, and vegetables are almost completely left out of the subsidy game.”
      “That the current system is a joke is barely arguable: wealthy growers are paid even in good years, and may receive drought aid when there’s no drought. It’s become so bizarre that some homeowners lucky enough to have bought land that once grew rice now have subsidized lawns. Fortunes have been paid to Fortune 500 companies and even gentlemen farmers like David Rockefeller. Thus even former House Speaker Boehner calls the bill a ‘slush fund’.”

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