RANDOLPH - Local farmer, Dale Anderson, shared the details of his recent trip to the state capitol with members of the Steamburg Milk Producers Coop. He stated that he was asked to set the tone of the meeting in Albany, to represent the farmers. It was a public forum on "Saving the Dairy Industry in New York State," to which he spoke. "I am a farmer and I'm 73 years old and I have been a farmer ever since junior high school," Anderson told the coop.
He continued by saying, "In the past 30 years we have seen problems plaguing the dairy industry. We have seen it talked about, written about, argued about, promises made and broken with suggestion and action few and far between." He further went on to say, "I and many fellow farmers are up to our eyeballs in debt with little help or hope in the foreseeable future in the credit world. I am a small dairy farmer ... I milk 80-90 cows." Anderson told coop members that when he was a young boy, the 20 mile stretch between Kennedy and Steamburg on route 394 boasted 34 dairy farms that produced milk. Today, there are two and one of which he doesn't think it possible for it to survive the next generation. He said that this is not the first time the milk industry fell into depression, but it's the most severe one he's seen.
"I can recall a time in the 1950's when a milk dumping action occurred at the Steamburg milk processing plant. Farmers brought shotguns on milk trucks which delivered milk to the processor in 85 pound milk cans. The milk was then weighed and dumped and farmers standing with their shotguns in hand. The state police were called in to stop the ensuing riot. This is now happening in France, Belgium and other European countries," Anderson relayed.
Chautauqua County Dairy Princess Emily Minor, center, Frewsburg, and her Dairy Ambassador Ashley Stearns, right, Kennedy, have just made Brent Goot, left, 9 from Cassadaga, happy with a glass of milk punch before the fall meeting of the Steamburg Milk Producers Cooperative meeting in the Randolph Fire Hall.
P - J photo by Jack Berger
Anderson said that this is a sign that there is a major problem in the dairy industry and that most people, politicians included, aren't very concerned with the plight of the dairy farmer. "Might I point out here that the farmer is less than two percent of the population and yet they feed the other 98 percent and I think the least they should be able to do is receive a decent living wage."
Anderson said that in July of 2007, his milk receipts consisted of $22,000, yet in the same month in 2009 they were less than $8,000. "How many of you could stand a $14,000 a month cut in pay?" he asked officials that he addressed in Albany.
"I have virtually hit the wall as far as being able to run a profitable operation," he stated. He said that it is going to be a long cold winter in his house. "But I look forward to selling more cows to pay the heating bill this winter."
Anderson said that some banks are no longer making farm loans and an office of one of the largest farm creditors in western New York told him that the only reason they are not currently foreclosing is because banks could not sell their secure collateral for enough to pay what is owed against it.
"Every truck you see going down the thruway delivering milk cost the farmer $3500."
He told officials in Albany that he realizes that this is not a state matter, but a federal issue. "But if the United States government pays stimulus for banks, car makers, computer corporations, then why can't the basic essentials, food, be treated fairly?"
"I am not here to solve the problems of the dairy industry, I am here to simply ask to have someone to try and help solve the problems so I can continue to feed America."
Anderson told officials that he is often asked why he doesn't just get out of farming if it is so bad. He stated that if he tried, his cows would bring in half of what they would have six months ago. Nobody would buy machinery. "So, it is almost impossible to sell or get out of the farming industry right now, but it is possible when this gets back around" He added that he wouldn't be surprised to see quite an exodus, especially of the older farmers.
State Sen. Catharine Young formally thanked Anderson for his attendance in a letter in which she said, "I will continue to fight for agricultural because it is crucially important to our local and state economy."
"State leaders need to become far more proactive in the agricultural community," stated Young in the letter.
Gordy Smith, Coop manager said that it had been a pretty difficult year (for farmers) but maybe next year would be better. He told coop members that nine new farms had been signed up and they are shipping 6.3 million pounds of milk a month. Because of the times, he stated that at the present time they are looking to add bigger farms to the coop. "I think that's the way to go," Smith stated. "It's been a challenging year, but I think things are looking up for us."
The accountant for the coop stated that it's hard to find much good to say about the first ten months of the year. He accounts poor prices as being driven by weak cheese and butter prices this year. He stated that President Obama has signed an agricultural appropriations bill of 350 million and 290 million of that will be a direct payment to dairy farmers. He stated that sixteen million of that is allocated to food pantries and the amount expected to be received by farmers after divided up will be $4,000-$4,500 per farm.
The Chautauqua County Dairy Princess, Emily Minor, spoke to coop members with highlights of her duties since her reign. She participated in the Mayville parade on July fourth, and a parade in Frewsburg. She attended the Chautauqua County fair and had a different sample for fair goers each day. She also had the honor of attending the State Fair in Syracuse. The princess has visited several area schools, including Sherman and a Southwestern kindergarten class. "I've been very busy this year and I've had a lot of fun," she said. Minor stated that she also did a radio spot. She shared with coop members that Domino's will make a specialty pizza that will use 40 percent more cheese, amounting to ten million pounds annually of cheese consumption. Minor said that a partnership with Tops Markets has been created; adding 20 single serve coolers in stores near registers and in other areas of their stores. She thanked all the farmers, stating, "Without your hard work every day, we'd have no product to promote. Thank you for your hard work."