Several members of Massachusetts’ congressional delegation joined their New England counterparts Wednesday in urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide dairy farmers with the relief and insurance needed in wake of reportedly declining milk prices.
U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, were among more than two dozen federal lawmakers who called on Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to make milk an agricultural commodity eligible for Federal Crop Insurance — a program that insures farmers for hundreds of different kinds of crops.
U.S. Reps. Richard Neal, D-Springfield; Jim McGovern, D-Worcester; Bill Keating, D-Bourne; Stephen Lynch, D-South Boston; and Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell, also signed their names to the letter, which further asked Perdue to work with the USDA’s Risk Management Agency to develop new insurance products for dairy farmers.
Although milk production at New England dairy farms has been on the rise with 68 million more pounds produced in 2016 than 2014, farmers have faced double-digit price declines in recent years, the lawmakers contended.
Ongoing difficulties with the Margin Protection Program for Dairy Producers and the lack of other risk management options, meanwhile, have added to the struggles New England and other American dairy farmers face, the congressmen and senators argued in their letter.
In 2015, for example, more than 700 New England farms enrolled in MPP buy-up coverage — a number which dropped to fewer than 30 in 2017, they noted in their letter.
Low enrollment is clear evidence that MPP isn’t providing farmers the risk protection they need, the lawmakers argued, adding that they intend to overhaul the program as Congress works to reauthorize the Farm Bill.
“We write today to urge the USDA to use its existing authority to provide relief to dairy farmers in New England and across the country … We urge you to utilize existing authorities to expand and enhance insurance products for dairy farmers,” they wrote. “Milk, a commodity by any measure, must be eligible for a range of policies through the Federal Crop Insurance Program.”
Aside from members of the Massachusetts delegation, congressional lawmakers from Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire also signed on to the USDA letter.
News of the letter came as McGovern met with farmers, agricultural producers and farming organizations across his district.
The congressman toured Sage Farm in Montague, Australis Farm in Turners Falls, Bardwell Farm in Hatfield and Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst on Wednesday.