TUNKHANNOCK TWP. — Dairy farmers told stories Tuesday of not being able to afford to pay for equipment repairs and fighting to keep their properties from foreclosure, all the while seeing milk prices drop 40 percent in a year.
Thirteen farmers from across Northeastern Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey shared their stories as part of the Progressive Agriculture Organization’s “Milk Hearings” Tuesday at Perkins Restaurant & Bakery.
Every story had a common theme — dairy farmers are struggling to feed their families due to decreasing prices for raw milk.
“The federal price system needs to be changed to include a reasonable cost of production (and) a supply management system to keep production in line with domestic and off-shore needs, ” Walter Barnes, a dairy farmer in Millerton in Tioga County, said. “These changes would require legislation by Congress, listening to real dairy farmers and the co-ops and getting the very large dairy co-ops to cooperate.”
More than three hours of testimony painted a grim picture for dairy farmers.
“We thought that we had seen the worst of times with the prices we were receiving for our milk and the high expenses to produce it in 2009,” said Robin Fitch, a dairy farmer from Winfield, New York. “In 2014, we had record highs in the dairy industry. Unfortunately, most farmers, if not all of us, were playing catch up from the devastation of 2009. In 2016, we are seeing our worst prices yet.”
In 2009, dairy farmers earned $13.09 per hundredweight, or 100 pounds, of produced milk. The cost to process the milk was $20 per hundredweight, creating a loss of $6.91 for every 100 pounds of milk, according to data from Progressive Agriculture.
In 2014, dairy farmers earned $24.28 per hundredweight of milk with production costs of $24.90. In 2015, milk rates dropped to $17.14 per hundredweight and production expenses were $23.41 per 100 pounds of milk.
The 2016 milk prices are estimated to reach $15.50 per hundredweight. The national cost of milk production is $23.42 per hundredweight. The price reduction created a $7.92 deficit for every 100 pounds of milk produced.
The farmers are hoping their testimony would spur legislative action, instituting a new formula for the rates paid for raw milk and regulating production rates and fees associated with processing milk.
“I ask is it not the time that we take the shackles off the dairy farmers of this nation and let them receive a fair price for their product,” Fitch asked. “Our processors keep turning over huge profits. Why do we have to suffer so?”
Representatives from the offices of U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton; U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton; U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville; and state Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, attended the meeting.