Today, State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D - Pittsfield) announced that the Governor has filed a supplemental budget for Fiscal Year 2007 (HD 4325), which includes $3.6 million in emergency grant assistance for dairy farmers. Since taking office in January, Downing has been working on behalf of the dairy industry in the Commonwealth, collaborating with his legislative colleagues and working with officials from the Department of Agricultural Resources.
In 2006, dairy prices for farmers fell by $0.19 to $1.14 per gallon, which equals prices that were paid to farmers in 1981. For the typical 100 cow family farm in Massachusetts producing 233,000 gallons of milk per year, this price decline equates to a loss of income of $44,270. On top of the decreased prices, production costs have risen sharply and are now at $1.70 per gallon. The price that dairy farmers receive is determined by the federal government and based on national supply and demand conditions to price milk throughout the country, including Massachusetts and New England. In recent years, huge dairy operations with more than 1,000 cows each in New Mexico, Texas, Idaho and California have driven up supply, while significantly decreasing prices. The price paid by the consumer, however, is unregulated, ensuring that retailers will continue to collect a profit on the sale of milk.
“I am thrilled that Governor Patrick has filed this supplemental budget – it comes none too soon for our dairy farmers,” said Downing. “I’ve recently learned that since last July, 20 dairy farms have been forced to close their doors across Massachusetts. This budget provides the necessary short-term relief needed by our dairy farmers, in order to buy time for the Legislature to enact long-term solutions to preserve this important industry.”
In addition to providing $3.6 million in funding, the Governor’s supplemental budget also includes language establishing a Dairy Farm Revitalization Task Force to study and recommend long-term solutions to sustain the dairy industry in Massachusetts. The Task Force shall consist of 11 members, including 2 members to be appointed by the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs; 2 members to be appointed by the Commissioner of Agricultural Resources; 1 member to be appointed by the Commissioner of Energy Resources; 1 member to be appointed by the Commissioner of Public Health; 1 member to be appointed by the Senate President; 1 member to be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives; 1 farming representative to be appointed by the Governor; 1 milk processing representative to be appointed by the Governor; and 1 member from the Massachusetts Food Association.
To address long-term sustainability of the dairy industry, Downing has co-sponsored three bills currently pending before the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, all of which have been scheduled for a public hearing on June 4th:
- S. 482 requires the Commissioner of the Department of Agricultural Resources to maintain and publish information regarding the average net raw milk price and the maximum retail milk price.
- S. 483 allows the Department of revenue to levy and impose a retail milk dealer fee at the established rate on the handling of milk sold at retail to final consumers for consumption of the handler’s premises in the Commonwealth.
- S. 484 establishes a designated fund, known as the Open Space Preservation Fund, in the Department of Agricultural Resources. Under this legislation, the Commissioner of Agricultural Resources would distribute the funds monthly to all dairy produces to foster various public benefits including preserving open space, environmental stewardship, tourism and agrarian culture. The amount of compensation is based upon the price of milk so that if the market provides compensation, the state need is lessened or eliminated.
Connecticut, Vermont and Maine have already provided similar assistance to their dairy farmers. The dairy farm industry generates more than $500 million annually in economic activity in Massachusetts.