Vermont group targets milk prices

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HARDWICK, Vt. (AP) – Margaret Laggis hopes that a new dairy farmers’ group started in Vermont has come up with a plan to stabilize the prices farmers get for their milk that can win support in other parts of the country.

“Our challenge was to come up with something everybody could support,” said the farmer and longtime advocate on dairy issues. “We think weve done that.”

Laggis joined the new group, Dairy Farmers Working Together, when it was formed late last year by farmers beset by low wholesale milk prices. It has 300 members now, from around New England, New York and Pennsylvania.

The group formed because “most of us were frustrated in talking with our national dairy leaders,” said Tom Bellavance, an Alburgh dairy farmer and president of Ag Ventures Financial Services in St. Albans. “There seemed to be a disconnect between the leaders in the dairy industry and the farmers on the ground floor.”

Leaders of the group have been traveling to Florida, Wisconsin and elsewhere to talk with farmers there about needed improvements to the nation’s milk pricing system.

They’ve crafted a proposal called the Market Assurance Plan that they hope to incorporate into the next federal farm bill. It would require all farmers to pay 10 cents per hundredweight – or hundred pounds of milk – into a fund managed by dairy cooperatives.

That would be expected to raise $225 million and be combined with $250 million in federal funding to provide assistance to farmers when prices go below predetermined levels.

Farmers said prices rise and fall in a cycle that typically last a few years. But they said that in recent years, price swings have become more dramatic.

Leaders of the farmers’ group met last week with Vermont’s congressional delegation, including Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democrat who is the second-ranking member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. “Its a plus to have dairy farmers in Vermont reaching out to dairy farmers in other regions of the country,” Leahy said. “Grassroots support for the strongest possible dairy program will be essential during the upcoming farm bill debate.”

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