2018-06-13 / News

Faso Fashions Fix for Farm Bill

Del Co Farm Bureau Pushes for Margin Overhaul, Flavored Milk in Schools
By Lillian Browne

The recent failure of the federally funded Farm Bill has left many people - lawmakers, SNAP benefit recipients and farmers alike - frustrated. Delaware County Farm Bureau President Duane Martin, a South Kortright dairy farmer milking a small Holstein herd twice daily, is among those who are frustrated.

The dairy industry is hurting, Martin said, especially in Delaware County, where almost every farm family has at least one member who works off the farm to supplement their income. He is no exception. Between milking shifts, Martin supplements his income as a writer.

The state of dairy has changed, he said, with many farmers relying on milk checks which have plummeted to the $14 per hundred weight range in recent weeks - a low point for dairy. In order to break even, dairy farmers need to make between $18 and $22 per hundred weight.

It’s a no-frills life that many generational farmers are hard pressed to leave though they have no control over the price they get for their product if they are participating in traditional dairying - which amounts to reliance on a milk check, over-saturated and disappearing markets and political hostage-holding by partisan lawmakers who have attached work requirements and income changes to the food stamp program and a hugely controversial immigration bill.

Martin dubs the failure of a new Farm Bill as a “bipartisan manufactured crises.” One from which, he says, everyone suffers.

Locally and statewide, the Farm Bureau has advocated for the reopening of international markets in Mexico, Canada and Russia, who have retaliated against U.S. exports of dairy as a result of domestic policy on immigration, tariffs and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) policy disagreements.

Farm Bureau’s goal, Martin said, is to increase trade by 5 percent.

Other initiatives include removing the word “milk” from almond and soy milk labeling; getting full-fat or whole milk and flavored milk back into the public school system and a revamp to regulations of the Clean Water Act, which all negatively impact the dairy industry, he said.

Farm Bureau is also opposing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirement that farmers report greenhouse gas emissions from their livestock.

Congress is listening.

Representative John Faso, representing New York’s 19th Congressional District and a member of the steering committee for the Farm Bill as part of his duties on the House Agricultural Committee, has proposed a fix that will make conditions conducive for passage of the stalled bill, which is likely to be voted on before July 4.

In the revamp, Faso said, there are enhanced protections for the dairy margin program which more accurately reflect the costs of dairy production. The measure was changed in the 2013-14 Bill, but has not worked, he continued.

The changes to the margin protection program were included in an earlier-this-year passed omnibus spending bill, Faso said.

Holding up the passage of the Farm Bill, Faso said, were a small group of Republicans and many Democrats who tied immigration policy to a new bill.

To address that issue, Faso said, he will bring an immigration bill to the floor of the House for a vote, well in advance of a re-vote of a new Farm Bill, increasing the likelihood of the passage of the Farm Bill. Border security, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and other agriculture related issues will be addressed in his immigration bill.

Included in the revamp, Faso said, are provisions to “crack down” on fraud in the organic dairy market. Many of the dairy products being imported to the country labeled organic, are not.

Faso said he continues to support provisions in the proposed Farm Bill for able bodied people who are unemployed and receiving SNAP benefits or food stamps, (which are governed by the Farm Bill) to work or meet work training requirements in order to receive those benefits.

The future of dairy remains uncertain, Martin said. “It’s definitely changing,” he continued. Many dairy farmers, he said, are diversifying their operations to include an organic line and meat products. Relying on a milk check, he continues, provides no sense of security for today’s dairy farmers.

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