By HENRY C. JACKSON
WASHINGTON (AP) -- More must be done to address dire conditions facing the dairy industry, farmers told Congress on Tuesday.
"The past year has been the most difficult since I began farming in 1973," said Paul Toft, a Rice Lake, Wis., dairy farmer and president of the Associated Milk Producers Inc. "Some say these times rival those of the Great Depression."
Toft was one of eight people who submitted testimony to the a subcommittee of the Senate Agriculture Committee. The hearing, chaired by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., focused on what the federal government can do to combat low dairy prices.
Industry experts told the subcommittee that Congress' decision last month to set aside $350 million for struggling milk farmers is a good start. But they said other steps need to be taken or more farms will fail.
Toft said Congress needs to look at new price stabilization efforts and controls on imports as it looks toward the 2012 Farm Bill.
Edward W. Gallagher, vice president of economics and risk management at Dairylea Cooperative, based in Syracuse, N.Y., called current conditions "the worst cost squeeze ... perhaps in history."
Gallagher said a certain amount of price fluctuation is inherent in dairy farming, but "more risk management education ... and financial incentives are needed to change the practices on dairy farms."
Gillibrand said the current crisis has shown that federal policy toward dairy farmers needs to evolve and should better protect family farmers.
"There is something fundamentally wrong with the way dairy farmers are paid for their work," she said. "We must develop new solutions to ensure that this does not ever happen again."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.