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Congressman Joe Courtney

Representing the 2nd District of Connecticut

Bipartisan, Bicameral Congressional Coalition Sends Letter To USDA Urging Market Balancing Help For Struggling Milk Producers

July 28, 2016
Press Release

WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, July 28, 2016) – On Thursday, Representative Joe Courtney (CT-02), Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Senator Bob Casey (D-Penn.), and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), joined by a bipartisan coalition of 57 other members of the House and Senate, sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack asking for assistance for dairy producers struggling with declining milk prices.  Specifically, the members are asking for the USDA to use its authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act to expand and maintain U.S. domestic markets.

“I have witnessed firsthand the struggle that dairy farmers around the country face with decreasing milk prices,” said Representative Courtney. “As milk prices have steadily declined over the last half century, Connecticut has seen its dairy industry shrink from over 800 farms to about 150 today. Reopening or starting a new dairy farm is a herculean task, which is why when one closes, more often than not, no farm will replace it. The American dairy industry is an integral part of our agriculture economy and as we face yet another milk crisis, it is more important than ever for the Department of Agriculture to lend a hand to our dairy farmers before it’s too late.”

Leahy, a leading member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a former chairman of the panel, said:  “Our dairy farms and the hardworking families that keep them running in communities in Vermont and across the nation are enduring an extremely tough summer as prices have plunged to a nearly ten-year low, well below the cost of production. This comes on the heels of a very challenging spring, and I am deeply concerned that the current price forecasts remain dire for our farmers.  That is why we have come together today, Democrats and Republicans from across the country, to call on USDA to act with urgency, using every tool and authority at their disposal, to help our struggling dairy farmers.  They cannot wait.  They need our help now.”

"As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I have made it my priority to support Pennsylvania dairy farmers,” said Senator Casey. “The dairy industry, which contributes more than $4 billion to our state's agricultural economy each year, is the Commonwealth's top agricultural sector. These farmers deserve our help in a challenging economic time, and we must do everything we can to ensure their stability and support."

“Wisconsin dairy farmers work hard every day moving our economy forward, so we need to do everything we can to reward their hard work by giving them a fair shot at getting ahead,” said Senator Baldwin. “Keeping our economy strong means ensuring our rural communities and farms make it through this challenging time for the dairy industry.”

Roger Johnson, President of the National Farmers Union, said: "The challenges in the U.S. dairy industry have been mounting as milk prices remain low and dairy price programs have failed to work as intended. The need for immediate aid that directly supports family dairy farmers is at a critical tipping point, and I applaud the efforts of these Congressional champions for family dairy farmers in taking this important first step.”

Farm milk prices have dropped 40 percent since 2014, due to both an increase in U.S. production levels and changes in the European Union’s regulation of milk production.  In vastly different dairy market regions of the United States, farmers are facing similar margin shortfalls while still adjusting to changes in federal dairy support programs from the 2014 Farm Bill. The Secretary of Agriculture has the authority, under the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act, to expand and maintain U.S. domestic markets.  By taking such action, the USDA can make an immediate market injection to directly and equally support struggling dairy farmers nationwide.

The full text of the letter is available online and below:

July 28, 2016
The Honorable Tom Vilsack

Secretary of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20250

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

We write today to express our concern about the troubling economic challenges facing U.S. dairy farmers and the entire U.S. dairy industry. We have seen farm milk prices drop forty percent since 2014 and in May the nation’s cheese stocks were recorded at their highest level since the data was first recorded in 1917. Current expectations are that the dairy market will continue to struggle with depressed prices and we seek your help as we search for ways to swiftly assist our nation’s struggling dairy farmers.

Our dairy farmers have been hit extremely hard by low farm milk prices that have resulted in sharply reduced incomes, which is placing our nation’s dairy industry in an extremely vulnerable position. A number of factors have contributed to this crisis. U.S. milk production has increased almost two percent above last year’s level, while global milk production is up significantly, partly as a result of the European Union’s decision to remove its milk production quotas and the loss of their export market to Russia. Furthermore, we are seeing an increase in production in other major milk-producing countries that have led to these depressed prices globally. All of this comes as our dairy farmers are still adjusting to the new Farm Bill, and the many changes that were made to our dairy support programs.

We are deeply concerned that U.S. dairy farmers, who are a key part of our agriculture community and agriculture economy, are in greater need of stability and support as they face these significantly lower prices, which for many are below their actual cost of production. As this industry is reeling from low prices, a glut of imports, challenges in our export markets, and poor economic growth projections we urge the USDA to use its secretarial authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act (15 U.S.C. 714c), Section 32 of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1935 (7 U.S.C. 612c), and look to past precedent for how to take action to protect all of our nation’s dairy farmers from further crisis and to aid in the expansion and maintenance of domestic markets. We encourage USDA to take any and all actions available in order to make an immediate market injection and offer financial assistance that will directly support U.S. dairy farmers equally, while being cautious to not stimulate overproduction further.

The family business of dairy farming has long been woven into our nation’s agricultural history. Across the country, in all 50 states, dairy farms large and small are economic drivers providing local jobs and local products. During the 2009 dairy collapse, we saw far too many families have to sell off their cows and close the doors for good. Through the support of USDA, we can hopefully prevent many farms from needing to make that same difficult decision today and we hope you will work to support all of our dairy farmers across the country. 

We look forward to working closely with you in determining the best course of action to take in managing the current dairy industry financial crisis. Thank you for taking the time to address this important matter. 


Sincerely,

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)    
Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT)                 
Sen. Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA)              
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)                     
Sen. Kelly A. Ayotte (R-NH)         
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)         
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)             
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)        
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA)   
Sen. Susan M. Collins (R-ME)   
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)         
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)                     
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)      
Sen. Angus S. King, Jr. (I-ME) 
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)  
Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-MA) 
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO)                
Sen. Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-OR)                         
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD)                   
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy (D-CT)  
Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI)               
Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT)            
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY)             
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)        
Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT)                            
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)  
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA)
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR)
Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY)
Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA)
Rep. Ryan A. Costello (R-PA)
Rep. John K. Delaney (D-MD)
Rep. Suzan K. DelBenne (D-WA)
Rep. Elizabeth H. Esty (D-CT)
Rep. Christopher P. Gibson (R-NY)
Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD)
Rep. John Katko (R-NY)
Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA)
Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI)
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ)
Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH)
Rep. James R. Langevin (D-RI)
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM)
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY)
Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA)
Rep. James P. McGovern (D-MA)
Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA)
Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA)
Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-MA)
Rep. Collin C. Peterson (D-MN)
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME)     
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI)
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR)        
Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO)
Rep. Elise M. Stefanik (R-NY)   
Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA)
Rep. Timothy J. Walz (D-MN)
Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT)