Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor | Richard A. Ball, Commissioner
Jessica A. Chittenden

July 06, 2009

Commissioner Meets With USDA Secretary Vilsack

Emphasizes the Need for Assistance for Dairy Farmers at Concord, NH Meeting

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker today met with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack at a town hall meeting in Concord, New Hampshire, where he joined other Northeast agriculture commissioners, emphasizing the serious need for assistance for dairy farmers in New York State and across the nation.

At his first face-to-face meeting with the Obama administration official, the Commissioner thanked Secretary Vilsack for the leadership he has already provided the dairy industry and asked for more direct assistance, explaining the dire need for help on behalf of the State’s 6,200 dairy farmers.

Commissioner Hooker specifically requested Secretary Vilsack to support an immediate and retroactive increase to the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) safety net program, as well as a minimum six-month interest-free extension or debt forgiveness on USDA loans. Both of these actions would bring immediate relief to dairy farmers, as they experience the perfect storm of high input costs and protracted low milk prices.

A surprise announcement by Secretary Vilsack in New Hampshire today was his pledge to form an advisory group to recommend changes to the federal milk pricing system for fairness for farmers and to help promote profitability and stability in the dairy industry. This is a concept that Commissioner Hooker and his counterparts in Vermont and Pennsylvania, as part of the Northeast Dairy Leadership Team, suggested to the Secretary in a letter sent earlier this year.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Commissioner Hooker presented USDA Secretary Vilsack with the following letter.


July 6, 2009

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

It is my pleasure to join Commissioner Merrill in welcoming you to the Northeast today. Having attended New York’s Hamilton College and Albany Law School, you are certainly familiar with the types of farm commodities we host, and know that dairy is the mainstay of this region’s agriculture. We greatly appreciate your recent authorization for the transfer of 200 million pounds of nonfat dry milk from the Commodity Credit Corporation to USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service for use in domestic feeding programs, and we are pleased about the renewal of the Dairy Export Incentive Program. However, our dairy farmers need additional help and they need it now.

We all anticipated a downturn in milk prices, but no one ever thought it could get this bad or last this long. Dairy farmers in the Northeast and across the country are now hurting financially, emotionally and psychologically. While by nature a very optimistic bunch, in the last few weeks I have received desperate, distressing letters and phone calls from farmers the likes of which I have never witnessed in my three decades of public service. I enclose several letters here for your perusal.

Because the actions individual states can take to bring much-needed relief to these hard-working families are limited, I implore you to take two steps immediately upon your return to Washington, the first being direct outreach to President Obama relaying the urgency of this situation, and requesting his support for an immediate and retroactive increase to the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) safety net program. By doubling the payment rate, we would provide some immediate financial relief to struggling dairy farm families across New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and the rest of the country. The estimated cost in doing so pales greatly in comparison to what Congress has approved for the banking and automobile industries.

Additionally, I ask your consideration for a temporary, emergency policy offering dairy farmers a minimum six-month interest-free extension or debt forgiveness on USDA loans. After such an extension period it would then be possible to reevaluate this measure and determine whether it was successful and whether the need is still present. This action would bring immediate relief of production-cost pressures farmers face in the eye of this perfect storm of high input costs and protracted low milk prices.

Presently, USDA loans to farmers – whether Production Credit Loans, Marketing Assistance Loans, FHA loans, USDA Guaranteed and Direct Loans or Low Interest Storage Loans – constitute a sizeable portion of the debt obligations many dairy farmers are increasingly unable to meet. It only makes matters worse when USDA loan delinquencies cause reductions in MILC and other FSA payments they need to keep afloat.

For the first five months of 2009, the benchmark federal order average price was $11.59 per hundredweight, down 25 percent from the average of the previous 5 years. Prices are now not expected to recover until 2010. Without immediate action, we are gravely concerned that the fall months will bring irreversible losses to this essential component of our regional food system and economy - our multigenerational family dairy farms. I urge you and President Obama to work with Congress to do whatever you can to help them in this time of crisis.

Again, I thank you for your time today, and would like to extend an invitation to you and your staff to visit Upstate New York this summer. Our agricultural communities offer many regionally-recognized events like Empire Farm Days in Seneca Falls (August 11-13 this year) that past secretaries have attended and enjoyed. It would be my pleasure to host you.


Patrick Hooker

2009 Press Releases