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NY U.S. Senators Urge Further Pandemic Relief For Dairy Farmers

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said she wants more direct relief payments to go to the state’s dairy farmers during a virtual press conference on Wednesday.

Farmers were first allocated funds through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP)last year, but some of the payments were put on hold in January when the Biden administration called for a regulatory review. Gillibrand said those payments were largely forgotten.

“Not only do we call for these payments to continue for the first half of the year, we also want them made retroactive to January 1,” Gillibrand said.

The Democrat is the chair of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, Poultry, Local Food Systems, and Food Safety and Security.

Dairy is the largest sector of New York’s agricultural industry. The state leads the country in yogurt, cottage cheese and sour cream production.

Gillibrand and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) authored a joint letter to Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), urging him to provide more assistance to the state’s dairy farmers. Continuing CFAP payments to dairy farmers, they wrote, would help alleviate the losses farmers faced in the earlier months of the pandemic and continue to incur from increased feed, labor, equipment and energy costs.

When the agency first rolled out CFAP last spring, it set aside $16 billion for direct payments to farmers, as well as $3 billion to purchase surplus products from farmers and redistribute them to organizations like food banks.

Glenn Winsor, of Winsor Acres, a dairy farm in Harpursville, participated in those programs when they were first offered to the nation’s farmers and dairy cooperatives.

Winsor was among the producers who resorted to dumping milk last spring when the pandemic wreaked havoc on the dairy industry’s supply-chain. Unlike other farm sectors, dairy farmers could not stop milk production when schools and restaurants suspended their orders, and processing facilities overflowed with product.

During that period, the price of milk sank from $18 per hundredweight in March to less than $14 in May.

“Our income level went down 60 percent for May, and probably 50 percent for June,” Winsor said.

Winsor was able to cover ten weeks of payroll with funds from the first round of CFAP and the price of milk recovered by October.

Many other farmers have not yet been able to recover, Gillibrand said.

Dairy farmers can apply for funds through USDA’s latest initiative, Pandemic Assistance for Producers, which aims to make payments to farmers more equitable. Its programs encompass a dairy donation program that USDA plans to implement in the coming months, as well as another round of CFAP assistance.

Applications for CFAP 2, which provides producers with financial assistance specifically to absorb some of the increased marketing costs associated with the pandemic, opened April 5 and will be available for at least 60 days.