Nothing is more dispiriting to a dairy farmer than dumping the day’s work into the manure pit, which is happening in Vermont and throughout the nation. The pandemic has had a cascading effect on dairy farmers, disrupting their supply channels and destroying the markets. They dump their milk because they have no buyers.

This comes at a time when dairy farmers were already stressed. The expectation months ago was that the markets would be improve; but COVID-19 obliterated that hope.

Several things have to happen, and quickly. First, the nation’s nutritional programs need to be matched with the dairy industry so that the food shelves, etc., get ample products and the farmers get paid a fair price. Second, the Dairy Margin Coverage [DMC] program needs to be reopened for 2020, which allows farmers to recoup the difference between milk and feed prices, and which could mean as much as three dollars per hundredweight. Third, is that we will need our congressional delegation to do battle so that our farmers can get a meaningful amount of the $9.5 billion in stimulus money appropriated by Congress.

Matching our dairy products with nutritional programs should not be a heavy lift, reopening the DMC program and fighting other farm groups for our share of the $9.5 billion, will be. Dairy, after all, occupies a small percentage of the overall farm economy… and all farmers are hurting.

Vermont’s Sen. Patrick Leahy can use his seniority to help. Rep. Peter Welch is also a valuable ally in the House. Perhaps even Sen. Bernie Sanders can stop campaigning for a second to lend a hand.

The time is now. What happens in the next several months could be critical to many Vermont farmers living on the knife’s edge.

Surviving, let alone prospering, will be the short-term focus but there is a long-term consideration that the pandemic is bringing to light. We’re used to high quality food, and we’re used to this high quality food being safe and protected. But we want it cheap. As we’re learning, that comes at a price, which is the solvency of our farms.

Maybe, just maybe, this crisis will not be a compete waste and leaders begin to emerge who push the idea of placing production controls on farmers in return for a guaranteed price, something that allows them to pay their bills, paint the barn, and keep the herd healthy. Like our friends to the north.

by Emerson Lynn

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