PENN YAN—Farm incomes are plunging, extreme weather events are increasingly damaging, and field workers are in short supply. Agriculture has always involved risk, but recent policies in Washington have made it even more difficult for 23rd District farmers.
In an effort to address some of these hardships, Democratic Congressional Nominee Tracy Mitrano (NY-23) connected with local family farmers to find answers that can be implemented in Congress.
“In rural districts such as New York’s 23rd, the fate of the farming community is closely linked with the fate of the regional economy,” said Mitrano. “Washington ignores their needs and threatens the livelihood and culture of our district. ”
Farmers in the district say that historically low prices, difficulty getting access to credit, immigration laws that restrict hiring seasonal workers, and the Trump trade war are all driving down profits. As other nations have slapped retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural products, a glut of milk, soybeans, corn and other agricultural products have flooded the domestic market.
The approximately 1,000 dairy farms in the district are having a particularly difficult time. The $12 billion tariff-mitigation plan announced by President Trump to help farmers affected by the trade war is primarily supporting soy bean and corn growers. Dairy producers are expected to receive a tiny fraction— just $127 million in direct payments—of the multi-billion-dollar package.
“I’m affected by the trade war most definitely,” said Anthony Marco, a third-generation small dairy farmer in Jasper, NY. “I don’t sell milk directly to China, but when it stops taking American dairy, that drives down the price of the whole market. Trade wars affect everyone. We are all in it.”
Like many small dairy farmers, Marco expects to receive less than $150 in relief funds—not nearly enough to make up for milk prices, which are so low that they do not cover his production costs. The National Milk Producers Federation estimates that the dairy-specific financial assistance package provided by the USDA represents less than 10 percent of American dairy farmers’ losses caused by retaliatory tariffs imposed by Mexico and China.
“Congressman Tom Reed supported the $12 billion relief package knowing that hardly any of that money is going to farms affected in this district,” said Marco, whose 40-cow farm is in Steuben County, home to about 215 dairy farms.
For farmers such as Marco, surviving 2018 won’t be easy. Since 2013, farm income has been dropping steadily, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This year, the average farm’s income is projected to be 35 percent below its 2013 level. For milk producers, the squeeze is even worse. In a January, 2018 report, Cornell University estimated that it costs $18.78 per hundredweight (cwt) to produce milk. In September, the USDA calculated that milk is fetching less than $14.85 per cwt.
Many farmers say there is a simple solution: set a floor on the market price of milk so it cannot drop below the cost of production. And all farmers, not just dairy, say federal laws could help them gain access to affordable credit that would help them buy the equipment they need to adjust to changing weather patterns associated with climate change.
“There are so many things Congress can do,” said Mitrano. “For instance, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has introduced a bill that would truly help our family-run dairy farms by creating a floor for the milk price. We could also reinstate USDA cheese and milk programs that would help dairy farmers, and provide important dairy products to schoolchildren and families in need — 40 percent of the population in our district.
“We must have federal help to address and plan ahead for extreme weather events. We need immigration reform to document our workers. We need robust internet in our rural and farming communities so that our farmers can compete domestically and internationally. Finally, we need a representative in the House who will work for our district’s rural communities—not against them.”