North Country farmers spill on milk-price woes

Producers, state reps brainstorm fixes for dairy industry

State Assemblyman Billy Jones speaks about his dairy farming experience during the Dairy Producers Meeting Wednesday at Rainbow Banquet Hall in Altona. More than 50 people were in attendance to hear from political figures and fellow dairy farmers about the falling prices of milk. (Photo — Kayla Breen, Press-Republican)

ALTONA — Chateaugay resident Francis Helm sent out a plea for young dairy farmers, like himself, to fight against low milk prices that are keeping them in the red.

“I’m literally a couple months from going out of business,” he said at the Dairy Producers Meeting at Rainbow Wedding and Banquet Hall here Wednesday afternoon.

The current price of milk is on a downward spiral after years of overproduction.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Base Class I milk is getting $14.10 per hundredweight; it was priced at $16.05 last April.

The average price for Base Class 1 production in 2017 was $16.45 per hundredweight.

State Sen. Betty Little (Photo — Kayla Breen, Press-Republican)

Many farmers who attended the gathering faulted themselves for their current situation and suggested speaking to directors and dairy cooperatives that they feel had prompted overproduction with incentives.

“I made a lot of mistakes going in,” Helm said. “We can’t just sit here and say it’s going to fix itself.”

Had to sell

The gathering encouraged conversations between political figures and local farmers.

Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay, was one of many state representatives to attend the meeting.

He spoke of his own family’s experience; he grew up on a multi-generational farm in Chateaugay.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “we had to sell our farm.”

State Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, was also in attendance, as were Franklin County Legislators Andrea Dumas, R-Malone; Donald Dabiew, D-Bombay; Greg Janisweski, D-Chateaugay; Paul Lauzon, D-Fort Covington; and Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake.

“We know that it’s an issue, and we’re here to do whatever we can to help,” Dabiew said.


Smaller-farm owners spoke in favor of production caps for area dairy producers who have thousands of cows.

They see larger farms monopolizing area production and profit.

Jones did not comment on this type regulation but encouraged better dairy promotion in urban areas.

“If you go to a restaurant in downtown Manhattan and you ask for a glass of milk,” he said, “you probably can’t get it.”

Helm, who has visited central Manhattan to speak to students in the past, agreed with that.

New York state dairy farmers pay 15 cents per hundredweight of milk for the promotion of dairy products.

Helm would like more information on the use of this promotional money.

If it is going to magazines, he said, young people do not read magazines.

Dairy Pride Act

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, couldn’t attend but sent a statement read by Joel Wood, regional director of her Plattsburgh office.

Her remarks addressed a program that was adopted with the 2014 Farm Bill.

“One of the recurring complaints that I hear about is the failing Margin Production Program,” she said in her statement. “The MPP has failed the Northeast dairy producers and is not working as it is intended.”

The program was supposed to protect dairy producers from the decreasing average milk price.

Stefanik voted in favor of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 that she believes will positively help dairy farmers.

“We are working to find ways to increase markets, roll back the regulations, find and fix the MPP program that is terribly broken.”

Stefanik is also in favor of the Dairy Pride Act which addresses unfair marketing tactics of non-dairy beverages.

“Severely wrong”

Little discussed her own strategies, including offering monetary benefits to schools that use local products and advertising with “Made in New York” stickers.

“When you’re doing the hard work and you’re investing, and there is no profit — there is really something severely wrong with the economics right now in the dairy industry.”


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