Democrat File Photo
Dan Peters of North Branch, who attended the Sept. 24 forum in Jeffersonville, runs one of the 29 dairy farms left in Sullivan County.
talk and action
By Frank Rizzo
JEFFERSONVILLE The county’s dairy farmers, shrinking in numbers, showed up in force to a forum that was all about their plight. It was held September 24 at the Jeffersonville First Aid Squad building, sponsored by Cornell Cooperative Extension and broadcast on Thunder 102.
There had been rumors that U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand who has sponsored legislation on the dairy farm crisis would be at the forum, but the only politician to show up was State Senator John Bonacic and he wasn’t happy about it.
“I am extremely disappointed that no elected officials are here from the state and federal levels,” Bonacic said to a burst of applause. “It’s a case of misplaced priorities.”
He went on to describe those in front of him as “being on your backs… there’s fear, there’s tremendous pain… I know you’re in a crisis. I know you need help immediately.”
Tunis Sweetman, an Orange County farmer, noted that the price of milk farmers received per hundredweight $12.54 translates to less than a $1/gallon and “that’s what farmers were getting when I was in high school. My question is, how would the public react if their salary went from the 2009 level to the 1970 level?”
“We’re in a tailspin,” said Brian Smith of Wayne County, Pennsylvania. “It’s expensive to make milk. You could make money in dairy farming when I started out in the early ’80s… [now] we don’t operate as a business… we need profit margins.”
Others at the table, including Earl Myers of Jeffersonville, said that the pricing system, which dates back to the 1930s, is broken and is way past due fixing. As recently as two years ago farmers were getting close to $20 per hundredweight.
According to USDA department figures, its costs about $7 more to produce the milk than what dairy farmers in New York are receiving for it.
“We need an influx of cash,” said Sweetman, and turning to Bonacic, who sat next to him, told the senator, “We need that money immediately.”
Bonacic blamed politics and the influence of the city-dominated legislature. Governor David Paterson declined Bonacic’s appeal to use federal stimulus money to help farmers. The senator noted that this year he and his fellow Republicans wanted to provide $60 million in emergency aid to dairy farmers, an amendment to the budget defeated on a party line vote.
Bonacic is currently co-sponsoring, with the ranking member of the senate agriculture Committee, Senator Catherine Young, legislation to re-authorize the 2006 Dairy Assistance Program in the amount of $75 million.
In effort to keep the “farmers above the radar screen” Bonacic suggested that “if [the politicians] don’t come to the meetings, you gotta go to them and get into their faces.”
Bonacic has followed up on the promise, and will host a public forum in Albany on the dairy farming crisis on October 19 starting at 10 a.m. Agricultural Program Leader Daniel Shockey of Cornell Cooperative Extension said he sought out dairy farmers who had command of the facts and were from a wide geographic area to emphasize that the crisis was widespread in scope.
“”[The speakers] came highly recommended by other dairy farmers and agri-business people,” said Shockey, who noted that there are only 29 dairy farms left in Sullivan County.
“That number is down dramatically, and if we don’t do something about the crisis there’ll be even less before the end of the year.,” Shockey said.
Hinchey secures money
At the federal level, Congressman Maurice Hinchey announced on Wednesday that he helped secure a House-Senate agreement that will deliver $350 million in aid to dairy farmers across the country as part of the fiscal year 2010 Agriculture Appropriations bill.
“I will work very hard to ensure that the aid I helped negotiate, and that we're about to pass in Congress, will make its way back to New York dairy farmers who play such a vital role in our state's economy and provide a product that most state residents regularly use and need,” Hinchey said in a statement.
Hinchey, a member of the subcommittee that oversees agriculture spending,said he will “work very closely with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to ensure that New York dairy farmers, particularly family farmers, receive the support they need.”
Forum in Albany
Following up from a promise made at the Sullivan County agricultural forum, State Senator John Bonacic and Senator Catharine Young, the Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, will host a public forum in Albany on the Dairy Farming crisis, on October 19 starting at 10 a.m.
Farmers will now have the opportunity to take their message to the State Capitol. Media from will be invited to help spread the word in support of more farm aid. “Those in charge of state government cannot claim ignorance of this important issue. We are taking our message statewide because the loss of family farms will mean more jobs would be lost and New Yorkers will pay more for dairy products,” said Bonacic.
While oral testimony will be limited due to the expected statewide interest, the forum is open to the public, and attendance is encouraged. Written testimony is not limited and can be submitted to Senator Bonacic, who will share that testimony with all Senate Agriculture Committee members. “Numbers speak. The more people, the greater the interest,” Bonacic noted.
Anyone interested in more information or for directions to the forum should contact Senator Bonacic’s office at 344-3311 or by e-mail at SenatorJohnBonacic@gmail.com.