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Farm crisis

08/29/06 12:00AM By Ron Krupp
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(HOST) Wet weather had an adverse effect on many crops this year, and commentator Ron Krupp says that may, in turn, put more family farms at risk.

(KRUPP) By late spring of 2006, the number of Vermont dairy farms had dropped to a new low of 1,179. And then came the summer rains. In May, corn seed rotted in the fields due to extremely wet weather, and in June farmers could not get on the land to hay the fields. Incessant rains decimated the food crops that fed the livestock at the Folsom Farm in Cabot, forcing the farmer to replant the muddy corn fields and delay haying. Jim Bessette of St. Albans, a seven hundred-cow dairy farmer, said his corn fields were so sodden and compacted, the corn seedlings could not push through to the surface.

Add to this the historically low price of milk, skyrocketing fuel costs and added expense of running equipment, hauling milk, buying fertilizer, paying for protein feed, and replanting corn, and you've got yourself a crisis. Jim Bessette estimates his previously profitable operation is now in the red. The question many dairy farmers are asking themselves is how will they feed their animals this winter. On top of this, dairy farmers received forty cents less per gallon of milk than they did in 2004. When you add in the increase in energy costs, the total potential average loss for a dairy farm is fifty thousnad dollars.

A dairy relief plan was proposed by the state of Vermont in response to this crisis. The goal was to help farmers earn more for every hundred pounds of milk they produced. They were already receiving twelve dollars per hundred pounds of milk. The state increased that by a dollar, and the federal milk subsidy program added another dollar, totaling fourteen dollars per hundred pounds of milk produced. But these payments were only a modest Band-aid, and they didn't make the pain go away.

The federal government also declared all of Vermont a disaster area in June. This designation allowed any farmer to apply for low-interest federal emergency loans to help them cope with their losses, but most dairy farmers couldn't afford another loan. The federal disaster emergency designation could also pave the way for Vermont farmers to receive federal disaster grants, if Congress enacts a four billion dollar crop disaster appropriation this fall. The money has been approved by the House and Senate, but there has been resistance from the White House due to the country's mounting deficit.

About fifty-four million dollars in federal emergency assistance is designated for Vermont. This money would be used to buy feed grain, corn and hay for winter, to help farmers recover from losses suffered as a result of summertime flooding. I hope the emergency aid goes through, so we don't lose any more dairy farms. Of course, if farmers got paid a fair price for their milk in the first place, the crisis wouldn't have been such a blow.

Ron Krupp is a gardener and author who lives near Lake Champlain on Shelburne Bay.

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