Around the nation -- and the world -- crisis deepens as expenses outpace income

Washington, D.C.: Support hike sought

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) -- Flanked by a cow named Betty -- and six of his Senate colleagues -- Sen. Bernie Sanders is calling for the House to pass an amendment increasing price supports to dairy farmers.

The Vermont independent made his pitch in a park adjacent to the Capitol, posing with his colleagues and the cow. He spoke in favor of an amendment to provide $350 million in support to dairy farmers.

Sanders and Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Bob Casey, D-Pa., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Tom Udall, D-N.M. stood with members of the National Farmers Union. The senators said dairy farmers are suffering through one of the worst periods in recent history.

Sanders says the agriculture industry will suffer if dairy farms continue to collapse.

Missouri: Farmers seek stimulus funds

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Missouri dairy farmers want Gov. Jay Nixon to bring lawmakers back to the Capitol to help their struggling industry, but state officials said Friday that was unlikely to happen.

The Missouri Dairy Association urged Nixon in August to use federal stimulus money to give farmers a one-time payment of $16.5 million. The industry now wants Nixon to call a special legislative session to authorize that spending.

A collapse in milk prices has driven some farmers out of business while forcing others to slaughter portions of their herds. Larry Purdom, a dairy farmer from Purdy who is the president of the dairy association, said milk prices might not improve until next spring and action is needed immediately for many farmers to stay in business.

"Missouri's dairy producers are losing thousands of dollars and the impact on the economy of Missouri is staggering," Purdom said.

The number of dairy farms in Missouri has dwindled over recent decades. According to the U.S. Department of Agricultural, Missouri had 56,000 dairy farms in 1965 but only 2,600 in 2007, nearly all of them with fewer than 200 cows. Missouri now has about 110,000 cows, and the dairy industry estimates that each cow generates nearly $14,000 per year in related economic activity.

Missouri governors can order lawmakers back into session to handle emergencies and other situations that can't wait for the Legislature's regular session in January.

Nixon spokesman Jack Cardetti said the governor does not plan to call a special session.

Missouri Agriculture Department Director Jon Hagler also said Friday that a special session is unlikely, but he said the agency would look for ways to help dairy farmers.

"Producers in Missouri have been faced with challenges and continue to struggle during these hard economic times," Hagler said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture sets the price of milk paid to farmers by dairy processors based on commodity markets that move with rising and falling global demand.

Last year, the United States exported more milk to keep pace with rising demand in China and falling supply in Europe and Australia. Wholesale prices increased, and dairies increased production. But the global recession prompted demand to fall sharply. That left American farmers with too many cows and too much milk and spending more to keep their herds than they were receiving for milk sales.

During their 2009 legislative session, state lawmakers considered legislation that some said would assist dairy farmers.

The House approved a bill that would have given dairy farmers an annual tax credit of up to $25,000 per year depending on production and milk prices, but the measure stalled in the Senate.

New England: Effort supports region's farms

RICHMOND, Vt. (AP) -- Three New England states are urging consumers to chip in and help save the region's dairy farms, which are struggling with record-low prices being paid for their milk.

Agriculture officials from Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts gathered Monday, Sept. 14, at a dairy farm in Richmond to launch the "Keep Local Farms" program.

Organizers have set up a website -- www.keeplocalfarms.org -- for people to make contributions that will be divided up among farmers.

They've also launched a program to have universities and other institutions -- the University of Vermont is the first to sign on -- charge a little extra for dairy products in their cafeterias, with the proceeds going to farmers.

European Union: Farmers spill milk

BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgian farmers sprayed 790,000 gallons of fresh milk onto their fields Wednesday, Sept. 16, furious over the low milk prices they say are bankrupting farmers.

Milk farmers' groups said world prices had sunk so much they are having to sell milk at half their production costs, leaving more and more farmers unable to pay their bills.

To highlight their desperation, about 300 tractors dragged milk containers through plowed fields in southern Belgium, dumping a day's worth of milk production in that region.

"It is a scandal to dump this, but we have to realize what the situation is," said Belgian farm leader Erwin Schoepges. "We need a farm revolt."

The crisis has driven many EU farmers into a "milk strike," with thousands refusing to deliver milk to the industrial dairy conglomerates that produce everything from skimmed milk to processed cheese.

Romuald Schaber, the president of the European Milk Board farmers' group, said up to half the milk farmers in some areas were refusing to deliver their milk and predicted the first shortages could hit some supermarkets as early as next week.

"We are looking at a real catastrophe. Nobody can produce milk at these prices," he said.

The 27-nation EU already pays for extra help to farmers in addition to the $80 billion it pays annually for support payments, market regulation, storage aid, rural development and other projects.

Agriculture is one of the most shielded economic sectors in the EU, but it has not been able to protect farmers from the global financial crisis that caused demand to crash.

"If we go on for another three months like this, 40 percent of French milk producers will be condemned to bankruptcy," said Pascal Massol, a Breton farmer who leads the French protests.

EU farmers group Copa said without quick EU action, farmers would lose$14 billion.

The European Union opposes tougher quotas, seeking instead to abolish the practice to let market forces have a stronger influence on production.

"I understand their emotions," EU Farm Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said of Wednesday's milk protest. "It is a human reaction."

BRUSSELS (AP) -- Farmers planned to turn a Belgian highway white on Wednesday, Sept. 16, by spilling 800,000 gallons of milk to protest low prices that are pushing them toward financial ruin.

Growing frustration with the economic downturn has led to widening protests across the European Union in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, farmers closed Belgian border crossings to the Netherlands and to Germany to push demands for higher prices.

Milk prices have fallen by 40 percent since spring, EU farmers group Copa said, adding that without EU action farmers would lose $14 billion. Farmers complain they have had to sell their milk for less than cost and face bankruptcy if the situation continues.

Some dairy farmers in France and other EU nations have halted deliveries. The European Milk Board lobby group said that in some countries, such as France, up to 50 percent of dairy farmers have joined the movement.

The lobby represents about 100,000 dairy farmers in the 27-nation bloc.

On Wednesday, the Belgian FUGEA farmers union planned to underline the "catastrophic situation" by dumping millions of liters on roads near the southern Belgian town of Ciney.

Such actions tend to divide farmers' unions with some arguing that spilling milk on purpose is unethical and counterproductive.

Most EU nations want to shore up milk prices but they disagree on how. The EU head office opposes a lowering of quotas.

The EU already is providing some help to farmers beyond the billions of euros it pays annually to the agriculture sector for projects including early support payments, storage aid and dairy promotion.

 

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