New York’s Family Dairy Farmers Are In A Daily Financial Struggle For Their Existence

Legislative column from Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,I,C-Canandaigua)
September 8, 2009

As you read this column, family dairy farmers across New York State are facing what many industry experts are characterizing as the toughest economic conditions in recent memory and, as a result, are fighting for survival. Unless something is done – and done soon – hundreds more dairy farmers will be financially devastated, driven out of business and the backbone of our state’s economy will have been broken.

In June, the average price that New York family dairy farmers received for their milk was approximately $11.50 per hundredweight. This price represented a 40-cent decrease from May and, worse still, a calamitous $7.40 drop-off from June of 2008. Such a steep decline translates into family dairy farmers being paid prices dramatically below what it costs them to produce their milk, regardless of their operation’s size. Keep in mind that family farms also bear significant labor, energy, feed, fertilizer and transportation costs, as well as New York’s uncompetitive economic climate.

As bad as all this is, some market economists are predicting fluid milk prices may not increase for another year! A recent Cornell University study revealed that in order for New York’s family dairy farmers to meet their average costs of production – to say nothing of trying to turn a profit for their backbreaking, hard work – they would need to receive $17 per hundredweight for their milk. That is almost six dollars more than they are currently receiving.

The possibility of more family dairy operations going out of business is unacceptable. This is why my colleague, Assemblyman Cliff Crouch, who serves as our Conference’s Ranking Member of the Assembly’s Agriculture Committee, and I asked Governor David Paterson to take immediate action to throw our family dairy farmers a much-needed economic lifeline.

Particularly, we asked the Governor to earmark and expedite distribution of $75 million of the $24.6 billion in funding allocated to New York State under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was enacted back in February. Keep in mind that this federal stimulus funding was already appropriated – Assemblyman Crouch and I want to ensure those monies get out of the administrative pipeline and go directly to New York family dairy farmers who are hurting and need help. We also asked that another $75 million in New York’s multi-billion share of federal stimulus funding be set aside for the 2010 growing season in the possibility that family dairy farmers face similarly tough economic times next year.

To avoid any undue administrative or paperwork delays in getting this assistance directly to family dairy farmers, New York could draw upon the policy and programmatic framework of the successful Dairy Assistance Program enacted in 2007, which was based on 2006 dairy production numbers. This would ensure time isn’t wasted by starting from scratch in figuring out how to get this assistance to our family dairy farmers who are third in the nation in terms of milk production.

An immediate earmark of funding by the state would be the single best action taken by government – at either the state or federal level – and would have the added benefit of a ripple effect throughout our upstate economies. Application of this funding would not only help save family dairy farms but private sector jobs as well. Assemblyman Crouch and I believe that using a small portion of New York’s stimulus funding to prevent hundreds more dairy farmers from going out of business would be in keeping with the intended purposes of the stimulus monies by shoring up our economy, along with creating and saving jobs.

We also believe this issue extends beyond dollars and cents and has national security implications. When the United States is able to grow and supervise the production of its own food – dairy, wheat, beef, poultry, fruits and vegetables – we can be assured of a safe, quality food supply. However, if even more of our family farms, dairy and otherwise, go under, how certain can our nation be that imported agricultural products – milk from China, for example – would be of the same high quality and truly meet appropriate safety standards? Cheap imported milk that doesn’t adhere to either of these important criteria is no bargain.

In the weeks and months ahead, Assemblyman Crouch will be sponsoring regional, non-partisan rallies across the state to draw attention to the plight of New York’s dairy farmers. These rallies will be grassroots-driven and educate the public about how our family dairy farmers are hurting and what state government can do to provide real solutions. Once the rallies are set I will publish the regional schedule in a future column. Until then, the next time you run to the store to pick up a gallon of milk, take a moment to think about the economic hardships faced by the hardworking family dairy farmers who are struggling and need our help.

As always, constituents wishing to discuss this topic, or any other state-related matter, should contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, or e-mail me at