Click here to listen to the archive September 17, 2012 Today we will be listening to Sylvia Davatz who is a seed saver in Hartland, Vermont and owner of Solstice Seeds also, I’ll be sharing an op-ed piece From Nate Wilson, who is retired from 40 years of dairy farming on a small grassland farm in Chautauqua County, New York.
The U.S. Needs to Preserve a National Dairy Herd by Nate Wilson
The drought of 2012 threatens U.S. food security; much of the current corn crop in the U.S. Corn Belt has withered. Corn supplies for America’s livestock, domestic food and ethanol industries and the global market will fall far short of demand. The 2012 corn yield, irresponsibly estimated by USDA in May at 166 bu./acre, has now been reduced to 123 bu./acre. Privately, professionals in the U.S. feed industry suggest the actual yield will be closer to 105 bu./acre.
Rising feed prices triggered by this calamity have set off an accelerating sale to slaughter of the nation’s dairy cows. Events are moving quickly; a potentially catastrophic sell-off that could leave this nation seriously short of an adequate supply of dairy products is a very real possibility.
USDA estimates operating losses on U.S. farm milk escalated to $8.65/cwt. in June.The price of corn has advanced dramatically since July 1st. to an unprecedented $8.00+/bu. An August 17th Rabobank analysis predicting corn prices continuing to rise into mid 2013 gives hint U.S. dairy farms will continue to hemorrhage red ink well into the foreseeable future.
Recently, a 4,000 cow dairy herd was dispersed in Texas because milk prices could not recoup feed costs. Similar stories abound nationwide. The California Farm Bureau’s weekly, AgAlert, interviewed Bruce Miles, a partner in the nation’s largest dairy accounting firm, Genske, Mulder & Co. He noted that 10% of the firm’s client farms have exited the business while an additional 20 to 30 percent have filed for bankruptcy protection to restructure. They must demonstrate a viable business plan to be granted bankruptcy protection. With ever increasing corn prices and flat milk prices, such a plan will not be possibile.
The imbalance of excessive feed costs vs. low milk prices is the new national norm: under this unsustainable burden a preciptious liquidation of U.S. dairy herds is a logical outcome. Miles observes: “Obviously, the dairymen need a higher milk price at this point. They’re not going to get any help from the banks anymore and the government is not coming in, so someone needs to push a higher milk price through so the industry can survive.”
Decisive action is needed to prevent a catastrophic loss of dairy cows nationwide. A clause in the current Farm Law, Section 608(c) 18 of the enabling legislation for Federal Milk Orders, answers just such a crisis. 608(c) 18 requires the Secretary of Agriculture, when petitioned, to hold emergency hearings and, if warranted, adjust the Federal minimum milk price into parity with current prices paid for feed grains. The stated purpose of 608(c) 18 is to, “… insure a sufficient quantity of pure and wholesome milk, and be in the public interest.”
Implementing the provisions of 608(c) 18 is responsible national food security policy. It will protect the American public from the threat of future dairy food shortages and consumer price spikes. In the nation’s best food security interest, the concept of a strategic, adequate base of dairy cows, a national dairy herd, needs to be considered.Concerned dairy consumers need to petition Secretary Vilsack, demanding an immediate 608(c) 18 hearing. He needs to act with speed and clarity.
Thomas Vilsack, Secretary, USDA
c/o Dana Coale, Deputy Administrator, AMS
1400 Independance Ave. S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250
or email at: