The five year Farm Bill, likely to pass a vote in the U.S. Senate next Monday, includes an amendment from New York Sen. Charles Schumer that attempts to address rising demand for milk.
Schumer says the amendment could help New York’s dairy farmers supply a fast-growing yogurt industry.
It would create a $5 million pilot program aimed at helping small dairy farms access technical help for things like animal nutrition and business planning.
Schumer says the program, called the Dairy Block Grant Program, would be similar to the popular specialty crops grant program, but would cater to smaller dairy farms. It would allow federal funds to be funneled directly to state agriculture departments, which could then spend the money catering to local needs and conditions.
Schumer says under the grant, dairy farmers could apply for grants to help increase their milk production.
“There’s demand for our farm products, for our dairy products, but they have a tough time expanding for a whole lot of reasons," he says. "Either they can’t get the loans, there are laws that are stacked against them. So what we try to do in this block grant is provide them with the wherewithal to get going.”
Steve Ammerman, spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau, says this could do a lot for small farms.
He says the rising property taxes, along with labor and production costs, mean many farmers don’t have the money to bring in specialists to help with feeding, housing or breeding.
“They may not be able to grow their herd size, but there may be opportunities or ways that they could simply increase milk production per cow. Whether it’s having better nutrition for their animals, or working with their vet to provide better care, things like that,” Ammerman says.
“When you have a happy cow, happy cows tend to produce more milk and something like the Block Grant could go a decent way to helping some of those farmers simply be more efficient,” he adds.
Ammerman says it’s crucial for dairy farmers to be able to increase their capacity and productivity to meet the growing demand from the Greek yogurt industry in upstate New York.
“It’s very important because we have this exciting industry unfolding right here in our midst" Ammerman says. "Certainly it all starts with dairy farming, we have to be able to provide high quality milk in order for these plants to be able to produce this yogurt that the consumers are wanting.”
He says passing the farm bill and immigration reform this year would go a long way toward supporting the prospects of upstate dairy farmers.