Senate approves dairy price subsidy plan extension

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(Host) The Vermont Senate has given its approval to a plan to extend the state’s price subsidy program for dairy farmers throughout the state.

At the same time, Agriculture Secretary Roger Albee is urging Congress to make major changes to the national milk pricing system.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Last summer, lawmakers and the Douglas Administration implemented a nearly 9 million dollar subsidy plan to help farmers deal with a variety of problems caused by extremely wet weather last spring.

The goal of the program was to help farmers survive until more than $50 million dollars of federal disaster relief money was allocated to the state.

But the federal money got stalled in Congress last fall and officials predict it will take months to revive the plan.

After hearing that dozens of farms are facing enormous financial problems, Vermont lawmakers have decided to appropriate another $3.2 million in price subsidy grants.

Senate Agriculture chairwoman Sara Kittell says the program is a short term solution to a serious problem:

(Kittell) “So it’s kind of a bridge to give farmers some support, get some more crops a little bit of money towards more crops or buying seeds. March is the time farmers tend to do their seed orders. It’s all of that.”

(Kinzel) Agriculture Secretary Roger Albee is hoping that Congress will pass the federal disaster money next month. He says the outlook for the bill is better because many other states have also experienced weather related problems.

(Albee) “Some of them because of drought – you know about the orange situation in California and there are other examples too. But if you look at the U.S. map there are many counties in the U.S. that have experienced problems with disasters due to weather or some other condition.”

(Kinzel) Albee says his major goal at this time is to work with officials from other dairy states to completely reform what he says is outdated federal milk pricing system.

(Albee) “For example there are a lot of large cheese plants in the west that have large dairy operations around them of 20 to 30,000 cows. We don’t have that in Vermont and yet under the old national policy on market order pricing it’s the cheese price that’s really affecting what our farmers are paid in Vermont under the old system. And somehow we have to reform that in a way that the market is rewarding our dairy farmers.”

(Kinzel) Albee is pushing to reform the federal pricing system as part of the 2007 national farm bill.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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