New Hampshire’s dairy farmers need our help

Economic factors and drought are devastating the industry

 Our dairy farmers are in trouble: 19 of our 120 dairy farms have closed so far this year. It is not just a New Hampshire problem; it is a nationwide demise of the dairy industry.

For every hundredweight of milk (11.6 gallons), the farmer is currently losing $10. Right now, it is estimated that the average farm in New Hampshire is losing $5 per cow per day. Not only is the price the farmer receives for milk way down, but the prices of feed, corn, fuel, electricity and fertilizer are up significantly. The average New Hampshire farm has 120 cows milking at any one time, which means the typical dairy farmer is losing $177,000 per year.

Can any of us survive that kind of sustained loss? We have heard speculation that we will lose up to 50 percent of our dairy farmers this year, unless we do something quickly.

How did we get here? Farmers do not set the price they receive for their milk. The price is set by the federal government through a very complicated milk market order system that is broken. In addition, demand for our milk is down because exports of cheese and powdered milk are down.

There is another wrinkle in this saga. The last federal Farm Bill eliminated the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC), a safety net for dairy farmers, and replaced it with a Margin Protection Plan (MPP) – an insurance program that farmers were urged to buy into. Well, they paid their premiums, but the payouts were severely underfunded. Of the $70 million-plus of premiums paid in by U.S. farmers, only $700,000 was paid out in claims, even though the prices are so low and expenses are so high. 

Many farmers, seeing the uselessness of the insurance, canceled this year. 

However, what makes this year so devastating for farmers is the drought. The hay and corn farmers grow to feed their cows is in critically short supply due to the lack of rainfall. As a result, farmers will have to buy their feed in order to keep their cows over the winter, which means a cost of additional thousands of dollars, which they do not have.

Losing our local dairy farms would have dire consequences. First, it is our source of fresh, wholesome, good-tasting local milk. We do not want milk dehydrated, trucked thousands of miles, reconstituted and sold as fresh milk. Secondly, when dairy farmers stop growing corn and hay to feed the livestock, they usually start “growing” houses. Therefore, if farms shut their doors, we can say goodbye to our open spaces that provide much of New Hampshire’s rural character and vistas that tourists love.

What is the solution? An immediate bailout from the state and/or feds of $4 million, which is the amount estimated to be sufficient to prevent our farms from shutting their doors. Next, we need to fix the formulas in the MPP and fully fund the appropriation side. Finally, we need the U.S. Department of Agriculture to review the Federal Milk Marketing Order System recommendation of several years ago and implement the recommended changes.

What can you do? Buy only locally produced milk and cheese. Call the governor and ask her to help New Hampshire dairy farmers from going under. Then call Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and ask him to send money now to help our farmers. In addition, you can call your Senators and Congressmen and ask them to put pressure on the USDA. 

Rep. Bob Haefner, R-Hudson, is chair of the House Environment and Agriculture Committee, and Rep. Tara Sad, D-Walpole, is a member of the committee.

Categories: Opinion