While aid being provided to local dairy farmers is a welcome gesture, what they receive will only be a drop in the bucket compared to what they have lost in recent months.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced it will be distributing $290 million nationwide to dairy farmers, with dairy farmers in New York state receiving nearly $40 million in direct payments to help stabilize their operations during tough economic times.
According to an announcement made by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the Dairy Economic Loss Assistance Payment program will give farmers payments based on double their total pounds of production from February to July.
Production information from those months will be used to estimate a full year's production amount, with a cap of 6 million pounds per operation. USDA estimates place the payment at about 32 cents per hundredweight.
Chautauqua County farmers are scheduled to receive $1,328,000 in funding from the program, while Cattaraugus County farmers can expect $758,400. According to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who co-sponsored the amendment to the Senate's Agriculture Appropriations bill, the USDA will begin mailing checks to farmers in the coming weeks.
Nate Wilson, a dairy farmer from Sinclairville, said that with an average of about 100 cows per dairy farm in Chautauqua County and 10,000 pounds of milk per cow each year, local dairy farmers can expect to receive checks in the range of $3,000 to $4,000 as a one-time payment - a nice supplement, but nowhere near enough to account for all the money farms have lost in the past year.
"There probably hasn't been a farmer profitable in the last nine or 10 months,' Wilson said. "If a family has to depend on that milk check with no outside income, they are in serious trouble and have been in serious trouble."
Christmas was likely pretty bleak for families depending on a milk check.
Milk prices went down substantially during the first quarter of 2009, dropping 27 percent from $16.80 per hundredweight in the fourth quarter of 2008 to $12.23 per hundredweight. On average, the price dairy farmers were receiving for milk marketed in the summer of 2009 was only about half of what it cost them to produce it.
Saying that each dairy farm in the area has been losing about $100 on every cow every month, Wilson said the average farm of 100 cows has been losing $10,000 a month for nearly a year.
"(The funding) looks like quite a bit of dough to the average person, but when you really work out what the loss has been, it really doesn't amount to much,' Wilson said. "It only takes care of the first 10 days of the first month, and this has been going on for well over 11 months.'
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said that the funding will only provide temporary relief to farmers who need a change in the system before they can become profitable once again.
"While this is great for New York's dairy farmers, this is only a temporary solution to the fundamental problems with the dairy pricing system,' Sen. Gillibrand said.
Wilson said that while farmers would love to see that change happen, it likely is more than two years away.
"Our push right now, those of us who are making noise, is to try to change the way milk is priced,' he said. "We're looking at the 2012 Farm Bill there, and Congress has said pretty much straight up that there won't be any changes until then.'
Dairy farmers who have production data for February through July on record at the USDA Farm Service Agency county office do not need to apply for the Dairy Economic Loss Assistance Payment program; the FSA will use the existing data to calculate and issue payments. Those who have not provided the data will have until Jan. 19 to apply. FSA officials estimate that more than 95 percent of dairy producers will receive the payment without needing an application.