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Dairy program proposed by Schumer would boost small local farms
May 30, 2013

A proposed federal initiative is designed to help upstate New York dairy farmers supply the booming Greek yogurt industry.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has introduced a $5 million pilot “dairy block grant program” as an amendment to the Farm Bill, similar to an existing specialty crops program.

The goal is to help small farms in particular obtain needed expertise with things such as nutrition or business management, which they might not be able to afford otherwise.

“I think it would help dairy farmers,” said Marge Randles, co-owner of Argyle Cheese Farmer, a cheese and yogurt company. “Cornell Cooperative Extension offered a lot of these things, but their budgets have been cut.”

Schumer cited several examples of the kind of help block grants could provide. For example, funding could allow farmers to hire animal nutritionists to customize cow feeding programs or specialists on housing and breeding to boost milk production.
Also, grants could be used to bring in consultants on nutrient management or to help farmers write and execute business plans.

“A similar block grant program already exists for specialty crops and has paid great dividends,” Schumer said. “It’s time we focus our attention on keeping the small dairy farms competitive and on the cutting-edge because they create jobs and multiply economic growth.”

New York is the nation’s fourth-largest dairy producer, and dairy accounts for half of all New York agricultural receipts, or more than $3 billion annually.

There are nearly two dozen Greek yogurt plants in New York that have created hundreds of jobs. The newest facility is slated to open June 3 in Batavia.

Both state and federal officials have introduced measures designed to increase milk production to keep these companies supplied.

Recently, at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s urging, the state allowed farms to expand their herds from 200 to 300 cows without being subject to additional Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation burdens.

Agri-Mark Chairman Neal Rea, a Salem dairy farmer, said Schumer’s proposal complements what the state has done.

“It will contribute,” he said. “On the surface, this appears to be a pretty good effort to support the industry in New York.”

Rea said keeping small farms viable is extremely important, as 80 percent of all farms milk fewer than 120 cows.

If approved, Schumer’s pilot program would allow states to submit an application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to receive funding that could provide technical assistance to individual dairy farmers.

The existing specialty-crop block grant program is popular with farmers because it gives states the flexibility to spend federal money as they see fit, given that New York’s specialty crop industry is much different than that of other states such as California or even Alaska, Schumer said.

A dairy program would have comparable benefits, he said.

Schumer’s proposal is similar to Cornell University’s Pro-Dairy program, which aims to bring technical expertise to dairy farmers by increasing competitiveness. Schumer said his pilot could leverage programs like Pro-Dairy with federal funding to reach a greater number of farms across the state.

Pro-Dairy has shown that such efforts have a ripple effect by benefiting local economies. Cornell’s research indicates that one new dairy job results in an additional 1.24 jobs to local communities, and every dollar of output on a dairy generates an additional 83 cents in the economy, Schumer said.

Source: The Saratogian


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