Pingree, New England Congressional leaders work to assist dairy farmers
WASHINGTON, DC—Today, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and more than two dozen federal lawmakers from across New England sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting that dairy milk be designated as an agricultural commodity eligible for Federal Crop Insurance and that the Risk Management Agency (RMA) to develop additional insurance products for dairy farmers.
Farm milk prices have dropped almost 40% in the last few years, and dairy farmers in New England are struggling to bring in the revenues they need to stay afloat. Pingree has been outspoken in urging the USDA to provide emergency assistance to dairy farmers and to take greater action to support New England dairy producers.
The New England Congressional leaders—including Maine's entire federal delegation—wrote:
Dear Secretary Perdue:
We write today to urge the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to use its existing authority to provide relief to dairy farmers in New England and across the country. Specifically, we request you take necessary steps to make milk an agricultural commodity eligible for Federal Crop Insurance and ask that you work with the Risk Management Agency (RMA) to develop additional insurance products for dairy farmers.
While New England dairy farms tend to be smaller, our dairy community is doing its best to run productive operations that turn a profit. New England's nearly 1,500 dairy farms are almost all family owned and operated. These dairy farms produced 4.25 billion pounds of milk in 2016, an increase of 68 million pounds from 2014. Despite this growth and efficiency, dairy farmers have had to cope with double-digit price declines year over year since 2014.
These struggles are amplified by ongoing difficulties with the Margin Protection Program (MPP) and a lack of other risk management options. In 2015, over 700 New England farms enrolled in MPP buy-up coverage. The program's failure contributed to its dramatic decline in participation. In 2017, enrollment in this buy-up coverage plummeted by 96 percent, with fewer than 30 New England farms purchasing buy-up coverage. Low signup is clear evidence that MPP isn't providing farmers the needed risk protection. As Congress begins work to reauthorize the Farm Bill, we intend to make necessary reforms to this program.
In the meantime, we believe it's imperative that the USDA take action to address issues created by MPP's failure. We urge you to utilize existing authorities to expand and enhance insurance products for dairy farmers. Milk, a commodity by any measure, must be eligible for a range of policies through the Federal Crop Insurance Program.
Existing statute defines the term 'livestock' as the actual animal and not the product produced. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 included report language clarifying that Congress did not intend for livestock products to fall under the limitation of livestock insurance policies. Both existing statute and follow-on clarification illustrates USDA has the authority to determine livestock and livestock products are distinct commodities. We request that RMA work with the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to determine milk as a distinct agricultural commodity eligible for Federal Crop Insurance coverage. Additionally, we would urge the RMA to use existing authorities to develop additional dairy insurance products.
Thank you for considering these concerns, and we look forward to working with you in your new role.
In Congress, Congresswoman Pingree has been an outspoken advocate for Maine's struggling dairy farmers. Last December, Pingree convened a roundtable for farmers to directly relay their concerns to a key USDA Farm Service Agency official who oversaw the nation's Dairy Margin Protection Program.
While still a major contributor to the state's agriculture economy, the number of Maine dairy farms has severely declined in recent years—there are currently fewer than 300. A number of factors converged to make the last few months especially changing for those farms that remain. Milk prices have sharply dropped—triggering a price protection program for the first time in Maine—and a drought in New England limited the amount of hay that farmers could cut for the coming winter, forcing them to purchase feed.