WASHINGTON, DC- U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Production, Income Protection and Price Support, today co-chaired a hearing on dairy prices and the state of dairy farmers. The hearing focused on the hardships those in the dairy industry are coping with in the face of low prices and the steps that can be taken to alleviate those problems.
Senator Casey’s opening statement follows below.
U.S. Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Production, Income Protection and Price Support
Senator Robert P. Casey Jr.
Opening Statement on Low Dairy Prices
October 27, 2009
Today’s hearing is an important step toward listening to the concerns, ideas, and views of farmers, processors, economists, policy proposers, and policymakers in the dairy industry. We, in Congress, have a responsibility to collect information on the dairy crisis and act on this information before even more farms close their doors for the last time and it is too late for us to provide meaningful help.
The crisis facing the dairy industry is a serious threat to Pennsylvania’s already impaired economy. Dairy is the top agriculture sector in Pennsylvania. The Northeast could lose up to 25% of its family dairy farms in this crisis. In total, 40,000 jobs in the Northeast are at risk.
The loss of farms means that dairy processing plants could close due to decreased supply. My top priority is to keep dairy and all of Pennsylvania’s agriculture a strong part of our economy that can compete nationally and internationally. That’s one thing we can all agree on. Whether you’re a milk producer, a manager of a co-op, a plant operator, or food manufacturer, we all need a healthy industry.
Yet, that is easier said than done. Every problem we try to solve creates energetic debate among the different members of the dairy industry. Nevertheless, I think we are all equally, if differently, affected by an antiquated system of federal dairy laws based more on history than logic. We are held back by an archaic dairy program that isn’t nimble or flexible, and actually discourages innovation. Working together we can change that.
All segments of the industry have generated dozens of ideas to address the situation. In addition to lofty goals to advance the dairy industry, we also have practical problems to solve. The dairy industry is at a crossroads. We have some difficult questions to consider such as:
Should we get rid of marketing orders?
Do we manage supply in a nationally-mandated program?
Can we ensure dairy farmers don’t continue to lose money by milking their cows?
Should farmers be able to forward contract directly with a processor?
What would happen if all milk just had one price?
Is real-time pricing possible?
What new technologies exist for processing milk and exporting new products?
We need to work together as an industry to answer those questions. We must meet the challenge of putting dairy smack in the middle of the 21st century global market place. I look forward to working with all of you to create the new future of dairy.