Sen. Charles Schumer traveled to Har-Go Dairy in Pavilion on Monday to warn that without passage of a 2023 Farm Bill, a program that helps dairy farms stay in business could expire in September.
Dairy Margin Coverage, a kind of insurance program that is taxpayer-subsidized but also funded by fees paid by dairy farmers, helps keep milk and cheese prices stable for consumers.
“Loss of the program,” Schumer said, "would cause huge supply chain disruption and market panic, which means less available milk. The price of milk would go way up. So even if you don't even have a farmer in your family, even if you don't even know a single farmer, you will be hurt if this program goes out because the price of milk will go up and all the other things that milk is used in would go up as well. The cost of milk could potentially double."
DMC is a voluntary risk management program for dairy farmers. It pays producers the difference in the price of milk, which is regulated by the federal government, and the cost of feed. It helps ensure that dairy farmers don't suffer catastrophic losses if feed prices rise unexpectedly. Feed for dairy cows is a commodity with prices set by global markets. Any sort of international crisis, whether political or environmental, can cause prices to spike.
"We don't want these small farmers to be buffeted about and actually put out of business by international forces that are beyond their control," Schumer said.
Schumer noted that employers such as HP Hood and O-AT-KA Milk Products, along with other businesses in Genesee County that are dependent on the dairy industry, employ more than 1,000 people locally.
"And we all know that milk from happy, healthy Uupstate New York cows tastes better than the milk from anywhere else in the nation," Schumer said.
The Farm Bill, which is renewed by Congress every five years, is in jeopardy because of greater partisanship, with harder lines being drawn, in Washington, Schumer said.
"There's a group of people who just want to just cut all the spending across the board," Schumer said. "Instead of just looking at where the waste is, and keeping good programs like this one. Usually, we prevail. But this year, things are pretty hot in Washington. That's why I'm here. I'm making a big push to make sure this program is sustained."
Shelley Stein, a dairy farmer in Le Roy and chair of the Genesee County Legislature, said maintaining the DMC is critical to the survival of the area's dairy farms, and the cost of the program is just a sliver of the overall spending authorized by the Farm Bill.
"Ninety-eight percent of the Farm Bill is used and directed to programs that feed people in America, and only two percent of that entire bill goes into farm programs,” she said. “So, only two percent of the spending goes to make sure that we can feed the rest of America."