Written by Ben Muir in the Watertown Daily Times on April 16, 2020

WATERTOWN — The agricultural coordinator for Jefferson County is saying farmers appreciate Congresswoman Elise M. Stefanik’s efforts to bring economic relief to farmers in the north country, which could be coming shortly.

Farmers across the country let alone the north country are hurting. Between 65 million and 100 million pounds of milk nationwide are being dumped down the drain every day. They don’t need loan programs as many are taking on debt as it is considering the low milk prices over the last five years. This year was looking good, a ‘year of recovery’ some have said, but with the surge of COVID-19 has brought upon a need for direct payments to provide expedited economic relief for farmers.

As a result, earlier this week, Ms. Stefanik co-led a letter with members of Congress from both parties to the United States Department Agriculture, requesting it provide farmers with direct payments, as well as reimbursements for milk that has been dumped, increased authority to purchase volumes of dairy products for feeding programs and modifications for federal programs to allow schools to purchase whole milk.

“We are working together, the vast majority of the delegation, to prioritize the needs of dairy farms,” Ms. Stefanik said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters. “This is based upon the advice of a wide variety of farms across the district, as well as Farm Credit, New York Farm Bureau, (The National Milk Producers Federation) and just local feedback that we’ve been getting.”

The agricultural coordinator with Jefferson County Economic Development, Jay M. Matteson, said the USDA was allocated funds to provide farms across the United States with relief. He said, understanding bureaucracy doesn’t move too fast, those programs need to be rolled-out as soon as possible.

“The Congresswoman has definitely got her focus on trying to get relief to the farm industry,” Mr. Matteson said. “Farms are hurting right now, and all of our elected officials are trying to address the agricultural issues, and we appreciate their work, especially Congresswoman Stefanik’s.”

Mr. Matteson said he’s fielding roughly a dozen calls a day from farmers asking about what the financial relief programs from the USDA might look like. He has sent letters to Ms. Stefanik outlining what he’s seeing in the north country. Last week, he said Ms. Stefanik held a conference call with a group of farmers in the north country as well, addressing their concerns and factoring them into her work.

On Thursday, a spokesperson for the USDA referenced statements made by Sec. Sonny Perdue last week. In a tweet, Mr. Perdue said the USDA, at the direction of President Donald J. Trump, is using all financial resources it has to develop a program that will include direct payments to farmers and ranchers hurt by COVID-19, as well as “other procurement methods to help solidify the supply chain from producers to consumers.”

As far as how the USDA will address Ms. Stefanik’s letter, and what those programs might look like, the spokesperson, in an email, said “Details on the program will be forthcoming shortly.”

As far as reimbursing dairy farmers for the milk they dumped, Mr. Matteson said that’s a big ask.

“That’s a tremendous amount of milk,” said Mr. Matteson, referencing the millions of pounds dumped every day. “It would help ease the pain, but at the same time, I’m hopeful but realistic about whether that will happen.”

You can read the full article at https://www.nny360.com/