Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the most senior member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the Committee’s Ranking Member, on Monday led 23 other senators in sending a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue urging immediate action to support the nation’s dairy farmers and stabilize dairy markets amid the sharp decline caused by COVID-19.
The health emergency’s impact on dairy prices has already translated to an estimated $5.7 billion loss at the farm level, following five consecutive years of low prices.
The senators wrote: “We urge the Department to act quickly and build off of existing programs to deliver both direct assistance to dairy farmers and intervene in the market to reverse the decline in futures prices and signal a floor on farm prices and support dairy processors and others in the supply chain.”
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which the Senate passed unanimously, provided USDA with a $9.5 billion emergency response fund for agriculture, to equip the Department to prepare for, prevent, and respond to COVID-19 through direct support to producers, including dairy farmers. The CARES Act also partially replenishes by $14 billion the borrowing authority for the Commodity Credit Corporation, which can be used to assist producers whether or not they have been impacted by the pandemic. As the senators urge Secretary Perdue to support dairy farmers directly from these funds, they also recommend immediate administration actions, including reopening Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) for 2020 enrollment and making significant dairy purchases to stabilize the market and provide necessary food to food banks and feeding programs as they experience surging demand.
“While these recommended actions should reduce the imbalance between milk supply and demand in certain segments of the dairy industry caused by COVID-19, especially in the short term, there will likely be additional milk dumping,” they wrote. “With significant dumping of milk possible, the Department should work quickly to ensure that there is a clear incentive to process and donate as much milk as possible.”
Joining Leahy and Stabenow on the letter are Senators Schumer, Casey, Smith, Gillibrand, Klobuchar, Peters, Sanders, Shaheen, Van Hollen, Reed, Warren, Cardin, Murphy, Wyden, King, Carper, Coons, Blumenthal, Hassan, Durbin, Baldwin, Feinstein, and Whitehouse.
Text of the full letter can be found here.