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Why Supporting Our Farmers is Personal

By Stonyfield Denise
September 23, 2016
FarmOrganicEnvironment

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What a great summer it’s been this year, right?  Lots of bright sunny days and not many rain days. It’s been great weather for family picnics and outdoor activities. 

When I moved to New Hampshire almost 20 years ago, I instantly fell in love.  I love the fact that there are farms and cows and agriculture and more natural beauty than you can explore in a dozen lifetimes.  New Hampshire is also a virtual melting pot of technology companies.  It is a perfect blending of the way things used to be, the way things should be and the way things will be. But sometimes a sunny day is more than it appears to be, even here.

So about all those sunny days…

It didn’t occur to me that the lack of rain that I have been enjoying this summer might be causing serious issues for local dairy farmers.  Today, I tuned in to NHPR’s Morning Edition and heard Commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture Lorraine Merrill talking about the “perfect storm” of events that has caused 19 of New Hampshire’s 120 Dairy Farms to close this year.  The combination of drought conditions, historically low market prices for dairy with the unprecedented high cost of supplemental feed is having a dramatic effect on New Hampshire’s Dairy Industry.

Conventional (non-organic) milk prices have always been unstable, with prices regularly dropping below the cost of production but climbing back up in a relatively predictable three-year cycle.  While many farms have learned how to weather these downturns, this year is different. This time, the drop in price has come during a severe drought that is crippling forage and feed production.  Many farmers are relying more heavily than usual on purchased forages and feed when they are least able to afford it. Even the best-prepared farms are digging deep into their capital reserves to make ends meet.

And since those farms are part of why I love living in New Hampshire, I realized this was my issue, too. When local farmers succeed and do well, we see the benefits in the form of lower prices, better quality and increased availability.  And our state economy is strengthened. 

How organic helps.

Transitioning to organic has been the answer for many dairy farmers, in particular for those who already have access or potential access to pasture. Unlike the conventional dairy market, organic prices are relatively stable.  And that enables farmers to do a much better job of covering the costs of production.  To help farmers make that transition, Stonyfield provides payments to farms while they are transitioning to defray the added expense of organic feed. They also provide technical support to producers who are transitioning to organic and plan to ship milk to the Stonyfield direct supply program.

What still needs to be done.

This situation demands both short-term interventions to save farms that are struggling, and long-term strategies to help better prepare more farms to weather such storms.  

In the short term farmers impacted by this drought need disaster relief to keep their farms afloat.  USDA has the authority to issue emergency loan payments, but loans are not going to work for farms that are already struggling under a pile of debt. Congress needs to either issue funds for disaster assistance or remove the limits on USDA’s discretionary spending.

In the longer term, the risk protection policy that is available to dairy farmers needs to be overhauled.  The Margin Protection Program created in the last farm bill has been by all accounts a spectacular failure. Even now, with low prices and the drought driving feed costs up, the program still isn’t providing the safety net farmers need.  

This is where you come in.

While there’s immediate need here in New Hampshire with the current drought, this issue is a national one. And it will take all of us paying attention to how agricultural legislation is decided to make sure our farmers can survive.

What YOU can do to help:

  1. Contact your congressman and ask them to:
    • In the short term, authorize emergency disaster payments and provide immediate disaster assistance to the dairy farmers impacted by this drought.  
    • In the long term, develop a safety net that actually works, and explore ways to provide organic transition assistance to producers who want to go that route.

2. Create change through your vote!  Research candidates before you go   to the polls and support candidates that have a record of supporting       local farmers.  If you don’t know, call the candidates headquarters and ask them where the candidate stands on the issues that are important to you.