Farm Women United
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, NY
Farm Women United
P.O. Box 113
Laceyville, PA 18623
“Taking Back Our Food Supply, One Farm Policy Project at a Time”
March 8, 2018
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
Dear Governor Cuomo,
We are contacting you concerning the deepening, severe economic emergency devastating dairy farmers, farm suppliers, and rural communities in New York State. A humanitarian crisis of historic proportion is intensifying daily as the dairy community suffers the fourth straight year of disastrous farm milk prices, with this year’s prices projected to be lower than the last three years. Farm beef prices also remain very low for the third year in a row.
The situation has become so desperate that Agri-Mark, Inc., a dairy cooperative headquartered in Massachusetts, with members throughout New York State and New England, sent a letter to members, containing various suicide crisis hotline numbers for depressed dairy farmers to call. A copy of this letter is enclosed. This dire crisis can no longer be ignored.
We are very much aware of the orchestrated attack on family farms, with the current focus on dairy farms. Many of the perpetrators of the most flagrant injustices against dairy farmers are the very “go to” people to whom politicians, bureaucrats, and others turn for “expert” advice on farm policy, while farmers themselves continue to be marginalized, scorned, and treated with contempt.
Driven by globalization, many federal policies have led to the current crisis being played out on New York dairy farms. Disastrous trade agreements, drawn up by unaccountable negotiators, have stripped farmers of any protection against inadequate milk prices. Dairy farmers' Constitutional rights have been thrown out and replaced by World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. A glaring example of this is the flawed federal milk pricing formula used to price New York's farm milk since 2000. Common sense and decency dictate that any federal milk pricing formula should not harm New York farmers and, through them, the financial health of rural businesses that provide essential supplies and services to the state's farmers and rural infrastructure.
The government's dairy mantra of “get bigger or get out” continues even now during these low milk prices. Financial institutions have encouraged dairy expansion and, many times, made that part of the mandatory criteria for obtaining loans, while, at the same time, farmers operating smaller and mid-sized dairy farms are being denied loans and the critical debt servicing they desperately need during these current periods of low milk prices.
It is a matter of public record that New York State politicians, including Senator Chuck Schumer, encouraged the state's dairy farmers to expand milk production to accommodate the yogurt industry, which has virtually abandoned the state, leaving New York with significant milk marketing challenges that must also be addressed.
Incidents of extreme human suffering and desperation are being reported on farms of all sizes across New York. “Out of sight, out of mind” and politically disenfranchised, a distinct class of New York citizens is under assault as the federal government continues to implement “policies” that disregard the basic human rights and dignity of New York dairy farmers. Particularly hard hit are farm women, some of whom operate their own dairy farms, with many having to hold down off-farm jobs to help offset the financial shortfalls from low milk prices and then return home to do farm chores in addition to caring for their families.
Such blatant economic injustice being perpetrated against New York’s hard working dairy farm women is contrary to what is purportedly a basic goal of New York State to provide fair working conditions that guarantee equitable financial returns for women in the workplace. This is not happening on New York State dairy farms because unjust federal milk pricing policies have created virtual dairy farm sweatshops where farm women and children and the rural elderly are the most victimized. New York State must stand with farm women and their families and demand essential federal farm milk pricing reform along with long overdue investigations into blatant milk marketing corruption affecting the state's farmers' milk sales options.
More dairy farmers than ever, unable to meet their family needs, let alone pay mounting farm expenses with the deplorable milk checks they are receiving, must choose between buying family essentials, including heating oil, health insurance, and groceries, or paying for a critical, basic business input, such as a grain delivery. Many farmers are now so insolvent, they must “do without.” Even basic costs are beyond their means, with many farm suppliers mandating COD because they cannot carry any more debt being run up on their business accounts receivables by farmers whose insolvency is a direct consequence of federal milk prices being factored below realistic farm “cost of production.”
New York dairy farmers are now entrapped in a virtual subculture of deprivation and want, financially excluded from participating in the state's economy because of bleak milk prices over which they have no control. Additionally, dairy farmers are operating in a chilling climate of fear and intimidation in a scandalously monopolized and monopsonized captive dairy “market,” dominated by consolidated Capper-Volstead dairy co-operatives. These rigged milk marketing dynamics leave New York farmers unable to move their milk sales into a transparent, independent milk market to secure competitive prices for their farm milk.
Congress, complicit in the actions that are negatively impacting the state's dairy farmers, must be held fully accountable by New York State to correct these inequities. It is the duty of state government to educate New York’s Congressional delegation, including members of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees, and President Trump to understand the devastation overtaking the state’s dairy farming communities because current FEDERAL dairy policies are undermining farmers' private property and their Constitutional right to own and operate farms in New York State without prejudice from the federal government. This situation is critical, directly threatening New York’s remnant rural dairy communities, the state's economy and tax base, and consumers' local food supply.
New York is at a crossroads where the state's dairy farmers are no longer able to defend themselves from the tyranny of federalism that has its origins in federal elected officials' refusal to respond to farmers’ direct pleas for help to have the federal government address the egregious wrongs being perpetrated against dairy farmers in the state. Dairy farmers need the full advocacy of New York State to take on their cause under states' rights for equitable milk prices so they can survive and sell their milk in a fair and transparent milk market to safeguard their private property in New York.
Vast regions of New York, dependent on revenue from raw milk sales, have lost the ability to maintain their independent socio-economic cultural existence because of the severe lack of money on the local dairy farms. Conditions stemming from low farm commodity prices, including raw milk, are contributing to the epidemic opioid addictions and high suicide rates being reported in rural communities. It is time for New York State to take control of the remedy for rural depression---improved farm prices that cover production costs.
Progressive Agriculture Organization (Pro Ag) has provided some grim statistics for New York's dairy economy. For 2016, the number of New York dairy farmers was down to about 4650 due to low milk prices. With annual milk production in the state at about 14 billion pounds and farm milk prices approximately $5.00 per hundredweight (cwt.) below the average cost of production for all of 2016, New York dairy farmers lost about $700 million in income in 2016 alone. Multiplying this through the immediate business community by a conservative factor of “5,” the losses to the extended local business economy in 2016, escalated to about $3.5 billion. Staggering losses such as these, hitting the state's fragile rural economy, are unacceptable and can no longer be ignored with the excuse that it is a “federal matter.” While this crisis is caused by the federal government, the situation requires action by STATE government because it directly affects the farmer-citizens and the economy of New York State in the state's LOCAL communities.
For these reasons, New York State is being asked to conduct an emergency intervention to stop these direct federal assaults on the state's dairy farming culture. States must step up, speak out, and take responsibility to ensure stable local farms, healthy agricultural communities, and a wholesome local food supply in their own backyard.
The need to bring a modicum of financial stability to New York dairy farmers is obvious. To that end New York State is being called on to support the recent efforts proposed by Pro Ag requesting that, you, as Governor of New York State, IMMEDIATELY (1) declare an “Agricultural State of Emergency” for New York’s dairy farming communities, demanding immediate federal assistance to provide meaningful relief to dairy farmers affected by this man-made financial tsunami directly caused by the federal government's defective milk pricing formula and (2) demand that the “Emergency Assistance” be to require Congress to support IMMEDIATE action to implement an EMERGENCY FLOOR PRICE of $20 per hundredweight (cwt.) under all milk used for manufacturing to stay in place until (3) Congress orders public hearings to identify the underlying causes of the inequities harming New York dairy farmers; to implement long-term corrections in the current methodology used in pricing farmers' milk; to investigate rampant corruption in the milk procurement and marketing system, including the activities of the Capper-Volstead dairy cooperatives; to investigate the role milk-derivative, protein “moo-glue” dairy “ingredients” have on farm milk price discovery and on consumer retail milk and dairy product quality and prices; and to revisit global “Free Trade” policies that are currently predicated on drastically de-valuing the milk produced by New York farmers.
This matter will not go away without the full commitment of people of good will at all levels of government. Understandably, this will remain a major issue during the upcoming election cycles at the state and federal levels.
Due to the abject desperation of New York's dairy farmers, some of the hardest working people in the state, we are asking for a timely response to our request in order to give dairy farmers hope that New York will not sit on the sidelines of this humanitarian disaster and allow one more day to pass without lending the full support of New York State to bring a just resolution to this crisis.
Farm Women United