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Stefanik pushes for changes to dairy farm program

Press Republican
July 21, 2017

By:BRIAN MOLONGOSKI

U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, is calling for changes to the 2018 Farm Bill’s Margin Protection Program.

In a letter sent to U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, Ms. Stefanik and other members of the New York congressional delegation are requesting changes to the margin program so dairy farmers can earn more from their investments in it.

The margin program, established by the 2014 Farm Bill, provides financial assistance to participating farmers when the margin — the difference between the price of milk and feed costs — falls below the coverage level selected by the farmer.

The Margin Protection Program replaced the Milk Income Loss Contract program. Enrolled farmers must remain in the program through 2018 and pay a minimum $100 administrative fee each year, and they may select a different coverage level during open enrollment each year.

Ms. Stefanik said the program has underperformed since its inception, and dairy farmers are not earning enough from the program while paying the administrative fees. The letter to Mr. Conaway calls for reducing those fees, especially for small and medium-sized dairy farms.

North Harbor Dairy owner Ronald C. Robbins enrolled in the program when it began. After the first year, he said he began paying only the minimum $100 yearly fee because he has not gotten a return from the federal government.

The problem, he said, is that the program is based on the national average price of milk and not by region. Dairy farms across the country can operate under vastly different environmental and transportation conditions at any given time.

“You can’t have national averages for a program that’s trying to protect farmers in various regions of the country,” he said.

Mr. Robbins likens the MPP program to getting fire insurance where you only pay the fees and don’t receive the coverage when needed.

“It’s like if your house is burning down, you’re holding a fire insurance bill, and an insurance agent is standing there telling you, ‘you have to pay the bill, but we’re not gonna cover your house,’” he said.

John D. Peck, a county legislator who owns Peck Homestead Farm in Carthage, said he chose not to enroll in MPP because he favored the previous program, which provided farms with cash when milk prices hit lows. But the new program, he said, simply takes more money away from farmers without providing sizeable compensation. He noted that while $100 is the minimum to enroll in MPP, farmers are more likely paying even higher fees to cover their needs, depending on the size of their operation.

“I did not sign up for this because I saw it was going to be a doomed program,” Mr. Peck said, adding that the federal government should be looking at fixing the milk marketing structure rather than instilling another insurance program. “As a small farmer, I want the heavy lift to be dealt with. I don’t want just another Band-Aid.”

The delegation letter was co-signed by U.S. Reps. Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford, John J. Faso, R-Kinderhook, Thomas W. Reed, R-Corning, John Katko, R-Camillus, and Christopher C. Collins, R-Lancaster.

“As we work toward the next Farm Bill, I will continue to fight for the priorities of our North Country farmers,” Ms. Stefanik said in a statement. “Dairy is critical to our agriculture economy and I am pleased to join my colleagues on this important push to support our local farmers.”

U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand has also sought for changes to the MPP program. Last year, she noted that between 2014 and 2016, MPP returned $700,000 to farmers despite collecting millions of dollars in fees.

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