JEFFERSONVILLE - At a special meeting this week at Town of Callicoon offices in Jeffersonville, U.S. Congressman John J. Faso (R-Kinderhook) pledged to assist a group of Sullivan County dairy farmers …
JEFFERSONVILLE - At a special meeting this week at Town of Callicoon offices in Jeffersonville, U.S. Congressman John J. Faso (R-Kinderhook) pledged to assist a group of Sullivan County dairy farmers who remain in danger of losing their livelihoods.
“I realize this is an emotional and distressing situation,” said Faso. “This is not just your livelihood but a way of life.”
The government official told the farmers gathered on Monday that he would personally contact their current milk processor and then move on to speaking to other milk plants from the list of local farmer Linda Kays.
In late May, the farms were notified by Marcus Inc. of Connecticut that, after 30 years of doing business, the firm could no longer find a market for their milk. With a cut-off date of June 30, the farms have been scrambling to find a milk processor who will take their milk. The firm's president, Jeff Marcus, has given them an additional two weeks, with the cut off date now in mid-July.
Most of the farm families will not be able to stay afloat financially after the milk checks stop, they have said.
Speaking with the Sullivan County Democrat, Jeff Marcus said the problem is one of supply and demand: too much milk and too little demand for it.
“I don't want to lose these farms,” said Marcus, “but where do you go with milk when no one will make a commitment to buy it?”
Marcus said he has worked for over two months to find a milk processor for the Sullivan County group. “I won't give up until it's beyond hope,” he said.
Dawn Erlwein of Myers Farm said that Dairy Farmers of America, a nationwide cooperative that processes milk for the dozen or so additional dairy farms in Sullivan County, would not take on anyone else.
TV takes on
At the Monday meeting, Town Supervisor Tom Bose told the group that CBS-TV had interviewed him for a segment on the plight of the family farms in the county. The interview came about after the local environmental group Catskill Mountainkeeper offered help and contacted its members, one of whom alerted CBS New York City Evening News. The segment ran Wednesday.
For his part, Congressman Faso listened intently to the concerns of seven dairy farms: Weissmann Farm in Callicoon Center; Myers Century Farm in Jeffersonville; Dan and Jackie Peters Farm in North Branch; and, in Callicoon, Diehl Homestead Farm and Maple Valley Farm, and Kays Farm and its tenant, dairy farmer Ryan Whitmore.
The farmers and others stressed the importance of farming to the county and the community. Family farms are crucial in helping maintain the fiscal health of the area. They support local businesses, encourage tourism, and keep the land green, speakers said.
On the other side are the mega-dairy farms with thousands of cows that “are flooding the market with milk,” said Dan Peters. “These farms got so big that now we have to take the brunt of it.”
Completely losing small dairy farms to big “factory” farms raises an issue of food security, Peters said.
“In the case of an act of terrorism,” Peters said, “or of big problems like hoof and mouth disease (in cows), which is highly contagious, small farms are safer because they're not in one place, they're scattered through the countryside and can easily be shut down for a time. With just the big dairy farms, the country is more vulnerable.”
on milk prices
The farmers, whose individual herds are able to make about a million pounds of milk each year, urged Faso to fight for a decent milk price for farmers' milk.
“We need a floor price for milk,” said Alice Diehl, that is, a lowest legal price for farmers.
Farmers' milk prices are determined by a number of factors: federal pricing guidelines; class of milk (fluid, cheese or powdered); trade value on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange; and dairy agreements under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The international marketplace also plays a role.
Numerous deductions then come out of farmers' monthly milk checks, such as a “make allowance” that processors take for converting a farmer's fluid milk into cheese or powdered milk.
There are deductions for advertising and promotion. “When was the last time you saw a milk ad on TV?” questioned Bose in irony. Bose is a farmer.
Then there's the hefty monthly hauling fee. Farmers pay to have their milk trucked to the processing plant every other day. Typically, a farmer pays about $500 per month for the service.
“No other industry handles it this way,” said Bose. He added that farmers also have to pay a fuel surcharge, again, unheard of in other industries.
Dick Coombe of Grahamsville, a beef farmer, attended the meeting to support the dairies. He mentioned the talk of new creameries starting up in the county that would use farmers' milk to make butter, cheese and yogurt.
This week, Catskill Mountainkeeper Director Ramsay Adams stressed the importance of dairy farms.
“My father, John Adams, grew up on a farm on Bethlehem Road in Callicoon Center,” said Adams. “These are his friends and neighbors. The family farm is representative of everything we love about the Catskills and what we want to protect. Small family farms are the backbone of this county.
“Our elected officials,” said Adams, “cannot allow a monopoly industry (that is, the large industrial farms) to put our family farms out of business.”
Congressman Faso recently stopped by the Sullivan County Democrat's Callicoon office and was interviewed by Editors Matt Shortall and Joseph Abraham. The story will be in Tuesday's Democrat!
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