Farmers hear proposals for stabilizing milk prices

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(Host) Although milk prices have rebounded from lows earlier this year, farmers are fearful they may drop again in the near future. They’ll hear a number of proposals for stabilizing milk prices at a series of meetings on Saturday.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) There’s no shortage of ideas for raising milk prices – and farmers will hear about many of them Saturday. Dairy co-operatives have a plan called Cooperatives Working Together. It’s aimed at raising milk prices by culling herds and creating new markets. A group of Vermont farmers has also organized in an effort to negotiate with processors and retailers for higher milk prices.

And Congressman Bernie Sanders, who is hosting the diary meetings, says he’s working on legislation that would be very similar to the now-defunct Northeast Dairy Compact which Congress failed to reauthorize two years ago. Like the compact, Sanders says the so-called National Dairy Equity Act would use money from milk processors to keep farmers’ prices from dropping below a certain level.

Sanders says he expects more congressional support for the new plan because it helps farmers in other regions of the country.

(Sanders) “There will now be five regional dairy compacts if you like, which means that we’re gong to be working with people all over the country and not just having to take on the entire Congress to protect the Northeast and Vermont. For the average farmer in the state of Vermont in most respects this legislation will look very much like the Northeast Dairy Compact.”

(Zind) The new legislation is expected to be introduced in the next session of Congress

Farmers will also hear from Ron Cotterill of the Food Marketing Policy Center at the University of Connecticut. Coterill has his own plan called price collaring. It would tie the retail and wholesale milk price to the price farmers get.

Cotterill says the plan would require the approval of state legislatures. He says if price collar legislation is passed in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, where most of New England’s milk is sold, it would help farmers throughout the region. He says there’s growing interest in the plan.

(Cotterill) “I think that the discussion and political will is rising. The structure of this law is quite fascinating from a political standpoint, I think. It really creates a natural alliance between consumers in Southern New England and farmers in all of New England.”

(Zind) Cotterill says his studies show processors and retailers are making big profits on milk. He says if his plan were in effect retail prices would actually go down while farm prices would rise. Saturday’s dairy meetings take place in Bridport, Sheldon and Barton.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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