Moo

Daisy the Cow came to the Capitol today to advocate for the state’s embattled dairy industry. As stunts go, that’s a pretty good one!

But unfortunately, it led to this line from Richard Blumenthal:

“Clearly what you can see today is dairy farmers are getting churned, Connecticut consumers are getting creamed and we need to stop that trend in the state of Connecticut.”

Talk about your cow patties.

The dairy industry in the state is in deep trouble, however. 12 farms have closed over the past year due to high costs–leaving only 157 remaining. The problem, according to a release sent out ahead of Daisy’s visit, is historically low mandated federal prices on milk, which means that farmers are losing about $1 for every gallon of milk produced. The farmers are looking for assistance from the state to save their industry.

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10 responses to “Moo

  1. Why is it when people write or discuss the dairy industry, they need to use all these ridiculous puns? Udderly ridiculous, creamed, milked, etc. Please, stop.

    Next question: why do we need to support dairy farmers? I mean, if it costs them $1 more to produce the milk then they get for selling it, maybe they should do something else. Maybe their land would be better put to use doing something else. Why does there need to be federal supports for milk prices, or why does the state need to support them? They don’t do this for most other industries?

    If Wisconsin and Indiana can make milk so much more cheaply, why does it serve our interests to prop up these dairy farms? Some — the most efficient — would survive I guess, but the most marginal ones would fail. But then those people can go and do something more productive than getting handouts from the rest of us. Why do we need a local source of milk now that we have refrigerated trucks? We don’t have any local orange farms in Connecticut, but every grocery store I visit has plenty of orange juice.

    There seems to be so much better things to spend money on that to prop up 157 dairy farms that can’t manage to make a profit without government assistance.

  2. Speaking for journalists round the world, we’re getting a little sore at Blumenthal for pulling our teats every five minutes.

  3. Why is it when people write or discuss the dairy industry, they need to use all these ridiculous puns? Udderly ridiculous, creamed, milked, etc. Please, stop.

    What’s your beef with a little harmless humor?

  4. GreatSantini

    Why is it when people write or discuss the dairy industry, they need to use all these ridiculous puns? Udderly ridiculous, creamed, milked, etc. Please, stop.

    Maybe they should get a “bale-out.”

  5. We could milk this until the cows come home.

  6. Lessee – the farmers get 1.90 a gallon yet a gallon of real milk (as opposed to that communist plot evil no good unleaded stuff) retails around 5 bucks.
    Retailers traditionally hold only 8 -11% on milk…..so it would appear that whoever the farmers are selling to……

    Those of us over 40 might recall a similar problem in the early 1980’s that concluded that there was a series of price-fixing schemes going on largely designed to harm CT dairy farmers in favor of New York dairy farmers.

    Could something along those lines be occurring again?

    Beats me – but I wouldn’t be too quick to assume that Connecticut’s Dairy Farmers aren’t under some sort of attack.

    Maybe they should get a “bale-out.”

    Oooo…that’s very good!

    But ya know who really needs a bailout; poor maligned Bernie Madoff.

    I mean geesh – all he did was a run a fund exactly the way the govt runs social security; except he got caught at it.

  7. Why do we need a local source of milk now that we have refrigerated trucks?

    The answer here can be found in all of the major food safety crises this country has had over the course of the past couple of years and the ones that will doubtlessly follow. Our food system is too centralized. Getting all your peanuts, spinach or milk for that matter from these large monoculture farms is terrible for the farmers, the environment and, worst of all, the American public.

    While there’s any number of reasons to have and maintain a strong agricultural sector in Connecticut, the one that most directly addresses your post is economy. Milk, like any other agricultural product, isn’t just a lifeless plastic. It comes from a living thing, is readily perishable and is subject to a huge variety of potential sources of contamination and adulteration. The cost of preventing that rises exponentially as you distance it from its consumers. Is it more cost effective to produce here at home or have it produced in a central location across the continent in and transported here in a manner that won’t hurt and/or kill people?

    My guess is that the answer for milk and many of the other products that we’re consuming at the supermarket is the former option.

  8. primusinterpares

    The answer here can be found in all of the major food safety crises this country has had over the course of the past couple of years and the ones that will doubtlessly follow. Our food system is too centralized. Getting all your peanuts, spinach or milk for that matter from these large monoculture farms is terrible for the farmers, the environment and, worst of all, the American public.

    Agreed. Also, as we continue to allow federal subsidies to the midwest to cause our farms to fail and be turned into subdivisions Connecticut permanently loses the ability to develop its own agriculture. In today’s world agriculture is more than milk… it can produce everything from plastics to energy. Farms are a vital resource for the future of our state and we need to keep them productive and competitive for years to come.

  9. Connecticut has one of the highest population densities in the country. It really doesn’t make that much sense to have that many farms. There are also a lot of crops that cannot be grown efficiently here due to soil acidity and climate. We are always going to be dependent upon other states to supply us with agricultural products. We cannot be self sufficient in agriculture, nor should we want to be.

    Land is expensive in Connecticut, because a lot of people want to live here compared to how much space there is here. This drives up the cost for farmers. Why should we use our tax dollars to subsidize farmers? I think that farmers should, like most other industries, not be subsidized.

  10. It’s a fair question gmr.

    My answer is in several parts:

    1) It’s open space, both for aesthetic and development reasons. Preserving farms is (probably) cheaper then parkland, while it also reduces tax sucking sprawl.

    2) While I’m not exactly a cheerleader for “smart growth” and “new urbanism” I do prefer development strategies that concentrate development in existing urban / semi-urbanized areas. It makes for efficient services — rural areas stay rural, with a reduced level of services and taxes; while urban areas keep the population density needed for efficient police, fire, sewer, water, etc services.

    3) Dairy farms are fairly extensive, and preserve large amounts of land pretty cheaply.

    That land, in the future, may better serve our state’s needs growing fresh vegetables or meat or whatever…but it can’t if it’s been paved over or allowed to grow back into forests.

    4) Connecticut dairy farms are among the most productive in the nation.

    Maybe other areas would improve if their land costs where as high, I don’t know. But we have among the best rates of production of milk per cow and silage per acre in the U.S., with the only areas significantly exceeding us is places like California dominated by factory milk farms and corn fields irrigated by massive river diversion projects.

    5) Having active farms support active farms. Spinning off from dairy farms is supporting activities, like people who hay and have horses, and hobby farmers. They’d have a little bit tougher time if the dairy farms weren’t here.

    In my case I’m on the “automatic delivery” plan from my local dairy farm…sometime each spring a dump truck load of manure shows up in my garden.

    That manure, in addition to fueling a recreational hobby of mine of puttering in the garden, also help grow something like 200# of fresh vegetables donated to a local food pantry last year (and hopefully 500# this year).

    6) I recognize there is a long term risk to the taxpayers in farmland preservation.

    We’re removing the land as a very valuable asset to provide future retirement savings.

    That means potential future farmers will need higher cash incomes or other ways to save for retirement. I can see a day where farmers, in a very European like way, ask for subsidies in order to work these public lands.

    But that’s a risk that isn’t well defined (as far as I know) currently to attach a dollar figure to it.

    7) Excepting the possible effects of #6 above, farming doesn’t necessarily need subsidies to be succesful.

    Part of the problem is farmers themselves tend to undercut their own negotiating position. It seems to be a culture of “cost +” where they’re willing to set a price that’s a bit more then what it costs them, rather then to see what the market will bear.

    Being a fungible commodity, even if Connecticut dairy farmers organized to demand a certain price, they’d get undercut by other states.

    The Federal Milk Marketing Orders system is highly manipulated and pretty useless today.

    The U.S. used to have a very succesful Tobacco quota system, and in Ontario there is a milk quota system that helps regulate prices and keep farmers from racing to the lowest common demoninator.

    If you’re not going to have a quota system, then the alternative is either what we have (Connecticut dairy farms go out, all milk is shipped eventually from California, Texas, or Florida where they have the longest growing seasons and cheapest labor to milk), or we need regulations to ensure farmers are paid fairly in comparison to the retail market.

    FMMO are, essentially, pegged to wholesale prices. That’s why farmers are getting about $1.10 out of a $4 gallon of milk right now. With about 75 cents in processing costs, there’s a gross profit of $2.15 a gallon or 53%. If you split that profit betwee retailer and farmer, farmers would be doing quite well in Connecticut without a tax subsidy.

    Yeah, there are parts of proposals like that which do rub me the wrong way, but it’s the best among bad options.

    Pegging payments to farmers to the retail cost of milk would also be similiar to converting gasoline taxes from fixed pennies per gallon to a percentage system. As the price of gas rose dramatically last year due to demand and other factors, with a percentage system at least a good portion of that price increase would’ve been captured into public coffers. You need to put policy choices like that into place in times like this though — with low prices and good supply, so you don’t excerbate a crisis in the future.

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