2017-06-14 / News

Congressman Advocating for Delaware County Dairy Industry

By Lillian Browne

U.S. Congressman John Faso 
File Photo U.S. Congressman John Faso File Photo The dairy industry, once an economic engine of Delaware County, continues to face challenges that could soon make traditional dairy farming a thing of the past.

Freshman Congressman John Faso (R), representing New York’s 19th Congressional District, which includes Delaware County, is hard at work on crafting dairy farmer protections into the federal Farm Bill, which is poised to renew in 2018.

Faso, a member of the House Agricultural Committee, is focused on a revamp of the bill’s margin protection program, which he said, “needs to go back to the drawing board.” The plan, he said, is not working, and a fix that is being proposed is the inclusion of regional feed prices to better reflect farmers’ costs. How that might be accomplished remains to be seen as the intricacies of the plan, which includes policies and funding for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), formerly known as the food stamp program, are interconnected to larger issues, like global economics.

Part of the economic equation is supply and demand. The milk market, both domestic and abroad, are flooded. Basic economics state that when supply is high and demand is low, prices naturally fall; which is what has happened in the dairy industry.

Expanding markets and increasing domestic consumption of milk and dairy products are one way to balance supply and demand, Faso said. “Otherwise,” he said, “we are just talking about dividing a smaller and smaller pie.”

A component of international dairy supply and demand is the TPP, or Trans-Pacific Partnership which was designed to create a new single market with the 12 countries that border the Pacific Ocean. The United States withdrew from the plan in January. Much of the work done with the TPP is now a basis for bilateral negotiations in Congress, which Faso says is a good thing.

It’s vitally important to come to some sort of trade agreement with Mexico, he said, because 40 percent of U.S. exports go there.

The rhetoric about building a wall to keep illegal immigrants from Mexico out of the United States, he said, has not been helpful. “It has been significantly modulated as it pertains to Mexico and the wall. Rhetoric and trade,” he said, “are a two-way street.” Mexico is a critical trade partner for the United States, he said.

While those issues are hammered out internationally, there is work to be done locally and nationally that can help increase domestic consumption. Aggressively marketing milk and dairy products, as part of the Farm Bill, would be effective in helping to achieve that goal, Faso said.

“We pay more for bottled water than we do for milk,” he said.

One of the ways to increase consumption, he said, is through the federal school lunch program. Skim milk, he said, is not palatable, and including flavored milk and two-percent milk in school lunches will help to increase consumption.

There are a number of other issues that must be addressed in order to finalize a new bill next year and, he said, “We are hard at work to develop a consensus as to what should be in the Farm Bill.” Congressional representatives from urban areas have emphasized a demand that SNAP remain part of the 2018 Farm Bill in order for it to be passed.

Dairy farmers are at the mercy of milk prices which they have no control over. The margin protection program was meant to offset some of the market volatility, but is funded, in part, by taxpayers. When asked whether the margin protection program would be more accurately defined as a welfare program for dairy farmers, rather than a “subsidy,” Faso responded by urging his colleagues to adopt and “promote market-based initiatives.” He would like to see market-based incentives for farmers to decide how large their herd should be, among other things, in response to markets.

As an example, he said, there is a current demand for organic milk and milk products. That is reflected in organic milk prices which are currently $38 per hundred-weight. Though it can be costly and time-consuming to convert a traditional dairy farm into an organic dairy farm, that is where the market is headed, Faso said. Bringing the dairy industry back to profitability is his goal, he said. It will allow Delaware County to continue its tradition in a way that is compatible with market principals.

The House Ag Committee and sub-committees have so far held 13 meetings, which Faso said, is encouraging.

“Dairy,” he said, “remains a critical issue.”

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