Plan will get financial aid to farmers

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(Host) The Douglas Administration and legislative leaders have agreed on a plan to give farmers a little financial help by the end of the year.

Officials say the state will accelerate payments under a dairy assistance program so farmers have some cash on hand going into the winter.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Governor Douglas and the Legislature came up with the state program as a stop gap measure until federal disaster relief payments came through.

The federal money is stalled in Congress. So the state’s $8.6 million dollar plan became even more critical for farmers hard hit by low prices and disastrous weather.

(Bartlett) “This is one of these projects from beginning to end we’ve all been able to work together and put the farmers and their needs and agriculture and the state of Vermont as the top priority.”

(Dillon) Lamoille Senator Susan Bartlett chairs the Appropriations Committee. The state assistance program ensured farmers got paid a support price of $14 for every 100 pounds of milk.

The money was supposed to be distributed in five or six months. However, a drop in production – and a slight rise in milk prices – meant the program payments would have been stretched out until spring.

Yet farmers are still facing high costs for feed and fuel going into the winter. When the House and Senate Agriculture Committees took testimony this fall, they learned that farmers owe feed and equipment dealers about $100 million dollars.

So lawmakers began working with the Douglas Administration to get the rest of the money out to farmers by year’s end. Bartlett gave credit to the House and Senate Agriculture chairs for their work on the issue.

(Bartlett) “I think Senator Kittell and Representative Zuckerman have done a wonderful job of from when we first came up with this idea in trying to do something, following it through, having a lot of meetings with the entire farm community, seeing that this money was flowing slower than was the original intent and never letting up on the pressure that this money was to get to farmers as fast as possible. And the administration has also been very cooperative with it.”

(Dillon) Lawmakers and the administration have also decided to change the way the money is paid out so that large-scale farmers get the same benefit as smaller farmers.

The program originally capped payments up to 4.8 million pounds of milk. The idea was that larger farmers had lower production costs and may not have needed the help. Administration Secretary Michael Smith says it’s clear that farmers are under the same financial pressures, regardless of their size.

(Smith) “All farms are facing the same costs, particularly feed, and the sort of the peripheral support mechanisms for the farms, like the feed stores, the grain stores they’re all feeling pressure for payments. And what we decided to do was to lift the cap for this last payment.”

(Dillon) Smith said the state’s Emergency Board, which consists of the governor and the chairs of the Legislature’s money committees will meet next week to approve the plan.

For Vermont Public radio, I’m John Dillon.

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