Farm Women United
P.O. Box 113
Laceyville, PA 18623
“Taking Back Our Food Supply, One Farm Policy Project at a Time”
March 28, 2018
The Honorable Bill Haslam
Tennessee State Capital, 1st Floor
600 Charlotte Avenue
Nashville, TN 37243
Dear Governor Haslam,
You are being contacted concerning the deepening, severe economic emergency devastating dairy farmers, farm suppliers, and rural communities in the state of Tennessee. We are facing a humanitarian crisis of historic proportion that is intensifying daily as the dairy community suffers the fourth straight year of disastrous farm milk prices, with this year’s prices projected to be lower than the last three years. Farm beef prices also remain very low for the third year in a row.
Tennessee dairy farmers face the reality of selling their dairy herds. Farm Women United has members in Tennessee who have received termination letters from Dean Foods. They will lose their market for milk on May 31, 2018. Because of difficult milk marketing conditions, dairy farmers who receive termination letters may not find a market for their milk and will have to liquidate their herds. If this happens, it is very unlikely that cows will ever be milked on those farms again. The termination letters were sent by Dean Foods because Wal-Mart is opening its own bottling facility in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Both Deans and Wal-Mart know that their actions will bring an end to dairy farms that have been in families for generations. Dairy farming has been their life, their passion, and their purpose. They have endured decades of serious challenges, and, now, despite their incredible tenacity and resilience, large, distant, and heartless corporations have given these dairy farmers a virtual death sentence. We urge the state of Tennessee to do everything within its power to ensure that the dairy farmers terminated by Dean Foods will continue to have a market for their milk.
We are very much aware of the orchestrated attack on family farms, with the current focus on dairy farms. Many of the perpetrators of the most flagrant injustices against dairy farmers are the very “go to” people whom politicians, bureaucrats, and others turn to for “expert” advice on farm policy, while farmers themselves continue to be marginalized, scorned, and treated with contempt.
Driven by globalization, many federal policies have led to the current crisis being played out on Tennessee’s dairy farms. Disastrous trade agreements, drawn up by unaccountable negotiators, have stripped Tennessee farmers of any protection against insufficient milk prices. Dairy farmers' Constitutional rights have been thrown out and replaced by World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. A glaring example of this is the flawed federal milk pricing formula used to price Tennessee's farm milk since 2000. Common sense and decency dictate that any federal milk pricing formula should not harm Tennessee farmers and, through them, the financial health of rural businesses that provide essential supplies and services to the state's farmers and the rural infrastructure.
The government's dairy mantra of “get bigger or get out” continues even now during these low milk prices. Financial institutions have encouraged dairy expansion and, many times, made that part of the necessary criteria for obtaining loans, while, at the same time, denying loans and the critical debt servicing desperately needed by Tennessee's smaller and mid-sized dairy farms during these current periods of low milk prices.
Reports of extreme human suffering and desperation are coming from farms of all sizes across the state. “Out of sight, out of mind” and politically disenfranchised, a distinct class of people is under assault as the federal government continues to implement “policies” that disregard the basic human rights and dignity of Tennessee dairy farmers. These long-term, senseless federal policies are getting worse, afflicting more and more dairy farmers who are unable to meet their family needs, let alone pay farm expenses with the deplorable milk checks they are receiving. Many farmers are so far behind in what they owe rural businesses, they must “do without.” Even basic costs are beyond their means, with many farm suppliers mandating COD because they cannot afford to carry any more debt from farmers whose insolvency is a direct consequence of federal milk prices being factored below realistic farm “cost of production.”
Tennessee’s dairy farmers are now entrapped in a virtual subculture of deprivation and want, financially excluded from participating in the state's economy because of bleak milk prices that are out of their control. Additionally, dairy farmers are operating in a chilling climate of fear and intimidation in a scandalously monopolized and monopsonized captive dairy “market,” dominated by consolidated milk processors, including Capper-Volstead dairy co-operatives. These rigged milk marketing dynamics leave farmers unable to move their milk sales into a transparent, independent milk market to secure competitive prices for their farm milk. This is starkly evident in the current milk marketing disaster that is threatening the survival of Tennessee dairy farmers now locked aboard the Dean Foods sinking ship with no market to sell their milk to save their dairy farms from extinction.
Congress, complicit in the actions that are negatively impacting Tennessee dairy farmers, must be held fully accountable by the state to correct these inequities. It is the duty of state government to educate Tennessee’s Congressional delegation, members of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees, and President Trump to understand the devastation overtaking the state's dairy farming communities because current FEDERAL dairy policies undermine dairy farmers' private property and their Constitutional right to own and operate farms in Tennessee without prejudice from the federal government. This situation is critical, directly threatening Tennessee’s remnant rural dairy communities, the state's economy and tax base, and consumers' local food supply.
Tennessee is at a historic crossroads. The state's dairy farmers cannot defend themselves from the tyranny of the overreaching federalism evident from federal elected officials' years-long stubborn refusal to respond to dairy farmers' individual pleas for help to have the federal government address the egregious wrongs being perpetrated against Tennessee dairy farmers which has now culminated in dairy farmers in the state being driven out of business by
capricious corporate dairy processor decisions. Tennessee dairy farmers need the full advocacy of the state to take on their cause under states' rights for fair milk prices, so they can survive and sell their milk in a fair and transparent milk market to safeguard private property in Tennessee.
Vast regions of Tennessee, dependent on revenue from raw milk sales, have lost the ability to maintain their independent socio-economic cultural existence because of the severe lack of money on the state's dairy farms. Conditions stemming from low farm commodity prices, including raw milk, are contributing to the epidemic opioid addictions and high suicide rates being reported in rural communities across America. It is time for Tennessee to take control of the remedy for rural depression---improved farm prices that cover production costs.
Progressive Agriculture Organization (Pro Ag) has provided some grim statistics for Tennessee's dairy economy. For 2016, the number of Tennessee dairy farmers collapsed to about 300 due to the low milk prices. With annual milk production in the state at about 696 million pounds and farm milk prices approximately $5.00 per hundredweight (cwt.) below the average cost of production for all of 2016, Tennessee dairy farmers lost about $34.8 million in income in 2016 alone. Multiplying this through the immediate business community by a conservative factor of “5,” and the losses to the extended local business economy in 2016, escalated to about $174 million. These staggering losses to Tennessee's fragile economy are unacceptable and can no longer be ignored with the excuse that it is a “federal matter.” While this crisis is caused by the federal government, the situation requires action by STATE government because it directly affects the farmer-citizens and the economy of Tennessee in the state's LOCAL communities.
So, we are turning to Tennessee to conduct an emergency intervention to stop these direct federal assaults on your state's dairy farming culture. States must step up, speak out, and take responsibility to ensure stable local farms, healthy agricultural communities, and a wholesome local food supply in their own backyard.
The need to bring a modicum of financial stability to Tennessee dairy farmers is obvious. To that end, we are asking you to support the recent efforts proposed by Pro Ag requesting that, you, as Governor of Tennessee, IMMEDIATELY (1) declare an “Agricultural State of Emergency” for Tennessee’s dairy farming communities, demanding immediate federal assistance to provide meaningful relief to dairy farmers affected by this man-made financial tsunami directly caused by the federal government's defective milk pricing formula and (2) demand that the “Emergency Assistance” be to require Congress to support IMMEDIATE action to implement an EMERGENCY FLOOR PRICE of $20 per hundredweight (cwt.) under all milk used for manufacturing to stay in place until (3) Congress orders public hearings to identify the underlying causes of the inequities harming Tennessee’s dairy farmers; to implement long-term corrections in the current methodology used in pricing farmers' milk; to investigate rampant corruption at all levels in the milk procurement and marketing system, including the activities of the Capper-Volstead dairy co-operatives; to investigate the role that surplus-creating "milk protein concentrate" (MPC) and the other milk-derivative protein “moo-glue” dairy “ingredients” have on farm milk price discovery and on consumer retail milk and dairy product quality and prices; and to revisit global “Free Trade” policies that are currently predicated on drastically de-valuing the farm milk produced by Tennessee farmers.
Additionally, Tennessee dairy farmers, whose milk market has been terminated by the Dean Foods action, desperately need the full support of the state of Tennessee to assist them in securing a viable alternative market for their milk. The plight of these unfortunate dairy farmers underscores the extreme degree of control and unfair business practices dairy farmers are routinely subjected to in milk markets dominated by iron-fisted elements in a vast, milk-marketing cartel that bears no resemblance whatsoever to a transparent, unfettered, free-market for the competitive sale of farmers’ milk.
This matter will not go away without the full commitment of people of good will at all levels of government. Understandably, this will remain a major issue during the upcoming election cycles at the state and federal levels.
Due to the abject desperation of Tennessee's dairy farmers, some of the hardest working people in your state, we are asking for a timely response to our request in order to give dairy farmers hope that Tennessee will not sit on the sidelines of this humanitarian disaster and allow one more day to pass without lending the full support of the state of Tennessee to bring a just resolution to this crisis.
Tina Carlin, Executive Director
Farm Women United
Response received fr0m Governor Haslam's Office
Dear Ms. Carlin:
Thank you for your e-mail to Governor Haslam regarding the economic conditions in the dairy industry. Your comments were valuable, and we appreciate you sharing these concerns.
I have forwarded your message to the appropriate member of Governor Haslam's senior staff for further review. Again, thank you for writing.
Don Johnson | Director, Constituent Services & Community Relations
Office of Governor Bill Haslam