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trade” is a familiar concept for international products like coffee, farmers right here at home are paid based upon an outdated, complex system that marginalizes their work and the sustainability of the working lands that we all enjoy.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.