Norwich Bulletin – By Ryan Blessing
April 26. 2016 4:32PM
Connecticut’s dairy producers are getting more help in Congress from Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.
Courtney is a co-sponsor of legislation that, he said, would bring greater parity to the federal system used to determine the price dairy farmers are paid for their milk.
The Dairy Margin Insurance Location Calculation Act of 2016, which was introduced April 11, amends the federal farm bill to require the Secretary of Agriculture to use data from each state to calculate average feed cost and actual dairy production margins.
New York and New England dairy farmers claim the existing margin protection program is harmful because it uses calculations based on the national average feed cost, which reflects conditions widely found in large Midwestern farm states.
“We need to do everything we can to support our small farmers and local agriculture,” Courtney said. “It’s unfair that dairy farmers across the Northeast, including in Connecticut, are forced to calculate their feed costs based on averages that are heavily weighted toward Midwest farming operations.”
Local farmer Matt Staebner, of BlueSlopeMuseum and Farm in Franklin, has taken part in the program in the past. But he doesn’t see the value in it, he said.
“How do you make the price fair to everyone,” he said. “The cost of feed differs state to state, and it’s much higher in southern New England than Pennsylvania, or New York.”
He recommends farmers diversify within their own operations.
“Try new things. That’s how we’re staying afloat in these hard economic times,” he said.
Murphy last week introduced legislation to increase federal support and resources for small cheese producers in Connecticut and across the United States.
The Local Cheese Promotion and Dairy Support Act is designed to strengthen local dairy supply chains by creating a new $5 million grant program to help small cheese producers grow their businesses.
Preference will be given to cheese producers who make their own raw material such as milk or buy raw material from farms within their state.
The act will set up grants that small cheese makers can apply for to assist with buying equipment, renovating or fixing production facilities, developing business plans, marketing products and paying for financial literacy or food safety training. The bill will also set aside 10 percent of funding to allow land grant universities, experienced producers and nonprofit organizations to establish cheese-making resource centers and to help new producers.
Murphy said cheese makers like Cato Corner Farm in Colchester are becoming increasingly valuable parts of the country’s $177 billion farming industry.
“They’re creating good jobs, worldwide brands and award-winning cheeses,” Murphy said. “But for new and small cheese makers, it can be particularly challenging to get the equipment and training they need to launch their businesses.
According to Murphy’s office, Connecticut’s dairy producers contribute nearly $1.3 billion and 4,286 jobs to the state annually.