Farm Women United
P.O. Box 113
Laceyville, PA 18623
“Taking Back Our Food Supply, One Farm Policy Project at a Time”
February 23, 2018
The Honorable Tom Wolf
Governor of Pennsylvania
508 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Dear Governor Wolf,
We are contacting you concerning the deepening, severe economic emergency devastating dairy farmers, farm suppliers, and rural communities in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 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.
Pennsylvania dairy farmers, including many from Amish communities, face the reality of selling their dairy herds. Losing Amish dairy farmers will have a major impact not only on southeastern Pennsylvania but on the entire Commonwealth, whose once thriving Amish dairy farming regions have long been popular attractions for the state's lucrative tourist industry.
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 the Commonwealth's dairy farms. Disastrous trade agreements, drawn up by unaccountable negotiators, have stripped Pennsylvania farmers of any protection against insufficient milk prices. Our 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 our state's farm milk since 2000. Common sense and decency dictate that any federal milk pricing formula should not harm Pennsylvania farmers and, through them, the financial health of rural businesses that provide essential supplies and services to our 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 our state'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 our state's 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 inputs are beyond their means, with many suppliers mandating COD, which is increasingly impossible to comply with because of the low milk prices.
The Commonwealth'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 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 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's milk.
Congress, complicit in the actions that are negatively impacting Pennsylvania dairy farmers, must be held fully accountable by the Commonwealth to correct these inequities. It is the duty of our state government to educate Pennsylvania's Congressional delegation, including members of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees, and President Trump to understand the devastation overtaking our dairy farming communities because current FEDERAL dairy policies undermine our farmers' private property and their Constitutional right to own and operate farms in our state without prejudice from the federal government. This situation is critical, directly threatening both the Commonwealth's remnant rural dairy communities, our state's economy and tax base, and our consumers' local food supply.
We are at a crossroads where our state's dairy farmers are no longer able to defend themselves from the tyranny of federalism that has its origins in federal elected officials' refusal to respond to our pleas for help to have the federal government redress the egregious wrongs being perpetrated against dairy farmers in our state. We need the full advocacy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to take on our cause under states' rights for fair milk prices so we can survive and sell our milk in a fair and transparent milk market to safeguard our private property in Pennsylvania.
Vast regions of our state, 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 our 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 our rural communities. It is time for Pennsylvania 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 our state's dairy economy. For 2016, the number of Pennsylvania dairy farmers collapsed to about 6500 due to the low milk prices. With annual milk production in the state at about 10 billion pounds and farm milk prices approximately $5.00 per hundredweight (cwt.) below the average cost of production for all of 2016, Pennsylvania dairy farmers lost about $500 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 $2.5 billion. These staggering losses to our state's fragile economy are unacceptable and can no longer be ignored with the excuse that it is a “federal matter.” While this is a crisis caused by the federal government, it is a matter requiring action by our STATE government because it directly affects our farmer-citizens and the economy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in our state's LOCAL communities.
So we are turning to the Commonwealth to conduct an emergency intervention to stop these direct federal assaults on our 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 our 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 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, IMMEDIATELY (1) declare an “Agricultural State of Emergency” for Pennsylvania'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 Pennsylvania dairy farmers; to implement long-term corrections in the current methodology used in pricing farmers' milk; to investigate rampant corruption in the dairy co-operative milk procurement and marketing system; to investigate the role 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 milk produced by Pennsylvania farmers.
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 Pennsylvania's dairy farmers, some of the hardest working people in our state, we are asking for a timely response to our request in order to give dairy farmers hope that Pennsylvania will not sit on the sidelines of this humanitarian disaster and allow one more day to pass without lending the full support of the Commonwealth to bring a just resolution to this crisis.
Farm Women United