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Nevermind the Fiscal Cliff, What About the Dairy Cliff?

Nevermind the Fiscal Cliff, What About the Dairy Cliff?

It is no secret that the life of a dairy farmer is not without its hardships. Besides the endless tasks of animal husbandry, there are the unforgiving hours (up at 4:30 AM) and zero vacation benefits. But over the last few years, dairy farming has becoming increasingly more difficult and far less profitable (or even sustainable). The dairy industry is currently upside down; meaning that the feed provided for cattle is more valuable than the actual milk they produce. Add to this the fact that the Federal Farm Bill (the little thing that determines U.S. agricultural policy) is caught up in the fiscal cliff gridlock and, while most farmers are covered by crop insurance if all else fails, dairy farmers are left out in the wind dangling (so to speak).

The already perilous lives of dairy farmers are made worse by the fact that they have no safety net to speak of, and as feed prices soar, so must milk prices. This is bad news for producers as well as consumers. According to a NPR report, the federal government “sets a minimum price for milk, but it hasn’t kept pace lately with increased prices for feed or energy or the cost of repairing farm equipment.” The result is dairy farmers need to work longer hours, producing more milk, just to stay above water, which is near impossible for most dairy farmers. There was a program called the Milk Income Loss Contract, which functioned as sort of a safeguard for dairy farmers by subsidizing farmers if milk prices dipped too low or feed prices inched too high, but that program expired back in 2008. This was sort of a stopgap measure, but one that provided a bit of much needed support to struggling farmers.

So what can happen here? Well if agreements are not made in congress by January 1st, a 1949 law goes into effect recalculating price support levels for farmers. In short, milk and dairy prices could easily double (or triple) within a few months. More money for a gallon of milk would seem like a good thing for dairy farmers, but sadly, they don’t always benefit from increased price. But needless to say, if consumers are spending upwards of $7 a gallon for milk come May, no one is likely to be happy.

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

40 comments

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7:00AM PDT on Mar 15, 2013

Sending a Green Star is a simple way to say "Thank you"

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6:59AM PDT on Mar 15, 2013

Well said, Jane and Bill!

5:22PM PST on Feb 27, 2013

Thanks

11:49AM PST on Feb 27, 2013

Thanks for the info.

3:02AM PST on Feb 27, 2013

Thanks for the article

2:02PM PST on Dec 29, 2012

it's time people paid the true price for animal products anyway instead of getting their dairy from taxpayer supported (socialized?) dairy. let the free market do its thing and weed out unsustainable and unneeded products. more people going vegan would be a good thing.

5:17PM PST on Dec 26, 2012

Thank you for sharing.

11:42PM PST on Dec 10, 2012

If we are committed to keeping dairy farms viable, then we *must* shift away from large-scale agri-business. Shop small-scale, buy local & support what you cannot grow. At least, that's what my granny would say if you were able to ask her ...

1:34PM PST on Dec 10, 2012

It is the policy of most dairy farms to turn their boy calves into veal, a most cruel and grievous process. I have very little sympathy for the industry considering how they treat the cows.

10:45AM PST on Dec 10, 2012

Small dairies have disappeared and are being replaced by large corporate dairies. Unlike a small farm, profits are far more important than animal welfare.

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