The "simple fact," testified dairy farmer John Roberts of Cornwall, is dairy farmers need a greater share of the retail dollar. Where once upon a time, 50 cents of the almighty dollar came back to the Vermont farm, now less than 30 cents does.
"The ability to recover the cost of production," the milker of about 200 Brown Swiss Cows told the Vermont congressional delegation, "is almost non-existent.”
All of the farmers testifying at Monday's hearing in the House chamber before Sens. Patrick Leahy (center) and Bernie Sanders (left) and Congressman Peter Welch (right), expressed their support for a reinstitution of a Northeast Dairy Compact and regional pricing. Sen. Leahy, the #2 Dem on Senate Agriculture who chaired the hearing, said regional dairy compacts would clearly be the best way to go. But he noted President Bush had promised while running for president he would veto any dairy compact legislation.
Sen. Sanders warned us during a break that the farm bill currently being written will definitely have an impact on the Vermont way of life.
"We are struggling, here in Vermont and in Washington, to preservefamily-based agriculture," said Ol' Bernardo. "Dairy farmers are up against the wall and ifwe continue to lose dairy farms, Vermont will be a very differentstate, and I think a less beautiful state. Our economy will suffer aswell. So, this is a huge issue for our way of life, for the environmentfor our economy.”
It sounds like an uphill fight?
"It is an uphill fight," conceded Sanders. "Small family-based farmers all over thiscountry in every commodity are struggling for their existence againstlarge agribusiness corporations. I hope that [in] this Farm Bill wecan make some impact in protecting little guys against these verypowerful, well-heeled big corporate interests.”
And the change in power in Congress from Republicans setting the agenda to Democrats doing it, means the Ag Committee hearings on the new farm bill will be held outside the Beltway in farm country.
"The importance of these hearings," said St. Patrick (enjoying a light moment at left with Ch. 3's Kristin Carlson), "is that they’re going to be held all over thecountry. You get a record you wouldn’t get just listening to themillion lobbyists who come through Washington."
Leahy wasn't making any guarantees for this current Congress, suggesting the picture might improve after the November 2008 Election. But he did make one little promise when we asked if the special interest and agribusiness powers will even listen to talk of dairy compacts?
"They’re going to have to listen [to us]." promised Sen. Leahy, "because we’re going to keep on talking about it!"
P.S. So with all this wailing and moaning over the inevitable end of Vermont's "way of life" as dairy farms fade into the sunset, how come no member of the delegation had a carton or bottle of milk in front of him?
In fact, how much milk have you had to drink today?
Funny thing, when I gave up the booze a couple years ago, I also gave up milk. The milk, unlike the John Power's Irish, was not deliberate. It just happened as my diet shifted to fruits, vegetables and salad.
You don't think giving up milk caused the cancer, do you?
Nah, it was probably giving up the booze.
Anyway, the congressional delegation has a good excuse for not having milk in front of them in the House Chamber at Monday's hearing.
Under the Rules of the House, only water is allowed on the floor of the House.
No coffee. No whiskey. No milk.
By the way, I'm back on milk. A quart a day.
Feeling pretty good, too.