Washington. Quit politicking. Feed the hungry & help your dairy families.

Like Washington politicians, farmers spread manure around liberally.

Like Washington politicians, farmers spread manure around liberally.

It’s fall, the corn has been harvested and this is the time we usually spread cow manure on the fields (organic fertilizer for crops). I didn’t realize that fall was also the time when our representatives spread their special kind of manure around Washington. The manure I speak of is Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, and Representative David Obey (D-WI), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, robbing $290 million destined for cheese and dairy product purchases for food banks and other nutrition and feeding programs and spending it on direct payments to dairy farmers. This allocation to help support the struggling dairy producers started out as $350 million to buy cheese for food banks. After these representatives got their hands on it they left only $60 million for the hungry and the rest in direct subsidies to farmers. “Why on earth does this dairy farmer oppose free money from the government?” I thought you would never ask, here is why:

Too much cheese, let's create a win-win-win for America.

Too much cheese, let's create a win-win-win for America.

Simply put, buying surplus cheese for immediate distribution in the form of food aid is a triple-net win-win-win. The use of the entire $350 million included for dairies in the 2010 Agriculture Appropriations conference report to reduce surplus cheese would have produced a much greater economic benefit to dairy farmers and related industries than direct payments. Cheese inventories need to be reduced in order for farm milk prices to rebound. The second win is the recipients of the cheese. Currently a record number of people rely on food banks whose inventories are critically low. The third win would go to the US government. I would suggest this administration could use a “feel good” story right now and a program that actually shows results.

The best part of this approach is that it benefits all dairymen equally. If the price of milk goes up a dollar, every dairyman gets a dollar for all his milk. The problem with direct payments is that they have caps. These caps cause an unequal distribution of the payments. So some dairymen get a benefit on all their milk while other dairymen get a benefit on a fraction of their milk.

Certainly an approach that treats all dairies across the country equally would be preferred but here is the real kicker to this deal. The MILC program (direct payments) actually prolongs the agony of lower prices by supporting and subsidizing the over production of milk. During a time of over supply it is in the interest of every dairy farmer across America to reduce the amount of surplus milk so that the price will go up. The idea of subsidizing dairy farmers to continue producing milk at surplus levels is counter productive.

I am a dairyman and I don’t want subsidies, I want a fair price for my milk. I believe that using the maximum amount of money available to the USDA to purchase surplus dairy products to feed the hungry is the smart, humanitarian thing to do. I believe that it will benefit all dairies equally via an increase in milk price. Do I think this is a long-term solution to our problem, no. But it is a fair and equitable solution for short term surplus management and the right thing for us to do.

I don’t want to have to answer the question when asked why I am taking welfare cash from the government when we have too much milk and people are going hungry. This is simply bad business and bad politics.

I suppose I sat down on a busy day here on the farm to express my disgust of this issue because I am tired of Washington and their constant politicizing of every issue as well as pandering to special interest groups. Yes that’s right, the mid-west and east coast dairy farmers, and the large dairy processors lobbied heavily to swipe $290 million from the mouths of America’s hungry in order to spread a few pennies amongst the dairymen and protect obscene profit margins by the processors.

These guys can get along, why can't we?

These guys can get along, why can't we?

It is time for all dairymen, east to west, large and small, Holstein, Jersey, and Brown Swiss to start taking a more holistic view of solving our price issues and realize that we need to invest in our entire industry and stop perpetuating these regional differences.

Dairymen in Wisconsin & New York, call your Senators and tell them that an economic analysis and USDA Cold Storage Report for August shows farmers could have gotten a better deal with a bigger cheese purchase and donation.

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