A dairymans perspective
It is my opinion that with the current condition of the world, turmoil, terrorism and strained relations, our country should really consider securing our ability to produce food. I am a dairy farmer and Im proud of it. Like other farmers who produce food, we are proud because we know people have to eat and we are necessary. But many farmers are in a bad way right now. Many years of low and unjust milk prices have destroyed our attitudes, our iron will and our next generation from wanting a life of poverty and hard work, and I mean hard work every day.
We recently had a window of opportunity to change the way milk is priced through the 2007 farm bill. So the dairy farmers rallied to the occasion with hopes and dreams of an honest and just way of pricing milk. We had meetings, we made phone calls, farmers worked hard to illustrate problems, show the need for change and provide good sound solutions. These solutions were industry and consumer based, not government subsidies. Most proud farmers dont want government subsidies. Every state and federal official that we as farmers spoke with agreed that there is a pricing problem equating to low back-to-farm milk prices that have put many farmers out of business. But the same officials who agree with the farmers that something must be done exhibit a stubborn and puzzling hesitation to do anything but talk about it. So you can imagine our frustration with the whole problem.
Currently the Federal Milk Marketing Administrator sets the minimum price of milk paid to farmers. The processors that purchase our raw milk must pay us that minimum price. The processors could pay us more, but they simply dont have to. The processors know that we have a perishable commodity and we have to sell it. When there were many small processors, a farmer had the option to sell his milk somewhere else, giving the farmer some pull in the market. But now the market is monopolized by big processors who leave us no choice.
Supply and demand the processors say, but that is so artificially manipulated its disgusting. The Federal Milk Market Administrator uses the market report from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), which trades less than one percent of the cheese manufactured in the United States. This makes it easy for the processors to send one or two extra railroad cars of cheese through the CME, simulating a surplus, driving down prices to farmers for their own profit. The milk protein concentrates that processors import also become part of the manipulation of supply and demand. Because processors can import milk protein concentrates at low cost and use them to manufacture cheese, the processor shows less need for our milk, which again lowers our price. The consumer should realize that milk in the United States is produced under the watchful eyes of our FDA and USDA, that keep our food safe. Milk protein concentrates are not regulated by these or any other organizations.
Currently, we are still selling our milk below the cost of production although the price does continue to climb. I recently went to a school to give a speech in a cafeteria and I spotted a vending machine with milk in it: 14 ounces for $1.25. That translates into over $120 for a hundred pounds (cwt) of milk retail. Currently dairy farmers are only getting between $17 and $18 for a hundred pounds of milk.
Now farmers are being told that milk could go over $20/cwt for a couple months. But two months doesnt mean farmers are doing well. We have to avoid being pacified for just long enough to let the window of opportunity for actionlike the 2007 farm bill that is now being draftedto pass.
There is no more farmland than what we have now. When a farm goes out of business, more often than not it grows houses and never returns to agriculture. This country is no longer a breadbasket to the world, but a shopping basket from it. The milk supply in this country is more fragile than most people can imagine. Its time to apply more pressure, not back off because prices are up. Stay activated. Call your representatives; call your Senators, Congressmen, and the governor. Call the Department of Agriculture. Encourage them to act for the good of our country, our economy, our agriculture, our food supply and our people. To secure our ability to produce food in this country farmers have to be profitable.
(Brian Smith, a dairyman from Milanville, PA, is a candidate for the position of Wayne County Commissioner.)