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AP: Welch, dairy farmers talk policy

April 11, 2017
In The News

ST. ALBANS — Vermont’s sole member of the U.S. House of Representatives met with dairy farmers Tuesday to begin crafting a “battle plan” for the next farm bill after the current one expires in 2018.

“Prices are down from 2014, so we’re hearing a lot about how tough it is out there when the cost of production exceeds what you’re getting per hundredweight” of milk, Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat, told about 10 farmers from the St. Albans Cooperative on Tuesday.

He asked how a voluntary insurance program that hasn’t helped Vermont farmers can be improved.

The margin protection program in the current farm bill provides financial assistance to enrolled farmers when the gap between the price of milk and national average feed costs falls below the coverage levels picked by individual farmers.

Farmers told Welch the program doesn’t reflect the higher feed costs in Vermont.

“The enhancement will have to be fairly large to have a real impact on the farmers of Vermont,” said Alburgh farmer and St. Albans Cooperative board member Tom Bellavance. He added that he doesn’t want to spend a lot of time working on a fix unless it’s enough to help farmers.

Some farmers also reiterated their call for a milk supply program to prevent an oversupply of milk like the country has now.

Any such proposal should come from farmers for it to have any success in Congress, Welch said.

“I think what’s going to be key in this is farmer reaction and input,” he said of the farm bill.

He also addressed farmers concerns about how President Donald Trump’s immigration policies may impact dairy farms that rely on immigrant farmworkers in the country illegally.

Federal immigration officials recently arrested three advocates for immigrant dairy farmworkers in Vermont.

The state has an estimated 1,000 Latino farmworkers, many of whom are likely living in the country illegally.

The congressional delegation, state attorney general and representatives of the governor’s office and agricultural sector met with regional ICE officials Wednesday following the recent arrests of the three advocates for the group Migrant Justice who were in the country illegally. Two were released on bond on Tuesday.

The delegation says it will continue to press federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement “ not to expend its limited resources by detaining individuals who are playing a productive role in Vermont’s communities.”

He and the rest of the congressional delegation and the state’s agriculture secretar y met with Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently stressing the vital role immigrant workers have in Vermont dairy farming and that aggressive enforcement could be a “devastating blow” to the dairy economy, Welch said.

“They heard loud and clear that we’re concerned about the stability on the farms,” he said of the federal agency.