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Dairy Farmers Are Vital to Economic, Food Security

By State Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine

Every year we celebrate June as dairy month. Milk is an important part of a healthy diet and a healthy dairy industry goes a long way toward fostering a strong state economy.

Our dairy industry accounts for more than half of all agricultural sales, from honey to timber, and as such, supports the infrastructure all farmers depend on, from banks to equipment dealers. When the dairy industry struggles, all farmers struggle, and the almost two-year extreme slump in milk prices has put in jeopardy the hundreds of thousands of jobs supported by our farms and the security of our food.

Current milk prices do not come anywhere near covering the cost of production for our farmers, who have continued to put wholesome, nutritious milk on the shelves and in the products we enjoy with our families. To help educate my colleagues in Albany, I sponsored for the second year in a row, an exhibit featuring facts about dairy farming right in the walkway between legislative offices and the capitol.

While it is incumbent on the state to do all it can to help our farmers, the unfortunate reality is that real change must come at the federal level. We must get federal action to defend our family farms. This past week I had the opportunity to submit testimony to the federal Dairy Industry Advisory Committee, a recently appointed group charged with helping address the nation’s dairy crisis. This advisory committee must stand up for our dairy farmers and not back down from the challenge of restoring parity in an industry that has farmers on the brink of collapse and consumers paying more than ever. This committee has the potential to accomplish the real change we need, if they use their power on behalf of the farmer and the consumer.

The unfortunate reality is that we have lost more than a farm a day, or eight farms a week over the past three decades in New York since regulations forcing parity in the market were dropped. I stressed to the committee that consumers pay more now than ever for dairy goods and farmers are paid less. Meanwhile, processors, as you would expect, earn record profits. The vertical integration, or the monopolizing of the industry has hurt farmers and consumers alike. We need a milk pricing system that is fair to all involved.

Recent history has made clear the link between our energy independence and our national security. We cannot afford to have a catastrophe drive us toward re-securing our food independence. We need to learn from the mistakes we made becoming dependent on foreign energy and not allow this nation to become dependent on foreign food. New Yorkers expect and deserve a fair and honest look at the impact of these food monopolies, a dependence on foreign food, and the import of milk protein concentrates and caseinates that undermine the price of milk.

As I said in my comments to the committee, family farmers are not begging for federal handouts. Farmers are proud people, who, for love of the land and their industry, have weathered droughts, overcome disease, and outlasted depression. They deserve our respect and simply want their labor to be valued, their products to be competitive, and their own government to take their side in the global marketplace. America’s farmers are asking nothing more. They deserve nothing less.