In the early 1970s, America boasted 660,000 dairy farms. In 2018, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported the number of U.S. licensed dairy farms at 37,468. While the number of dairy farms dropped in half about every decade since the 1970s, the average farm size nearly doubled. That’s consolidation in the dairy industry – fewer, larger farms replacing small and medium sized family-owned dairy farms bought out by industrial-sized mega-farms. From 2017 to 2018, the states with the largest loss of dairy farms were Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New York, Minnesota and Michigan.
During these decades, as the number of farms dropped and the size of the farms grew, the number of cows stayed about the same. With genetic manipulation and selective breeding, milk production per cow has doubled since the 1950s.
The PRIMARY reason family-owned dairy farms are going out of business is the federal government sets the price of milk far below the farmer’s cost of production. Yes, dairy farmers lose money every time the truck hauls milk off the farm due to the laws of the land at least since the 2014 Farm Bill. Many generational farmers trace the origins of the crisis back to 1981, when the federal government decided to stop supporting the price of milk during bad times.
The impact of mega-farms on rural economies and our natural environment is generally horrible. The impact on generations of family farmers is devastating, with depression, divorce and suicide another aspect of the crisis in dairy farming.
Our federal agriculture policies and formulas are a perverted form of central planning.Even banking and loan regulations contain a “bigger is better” bias in policies and regulations, denying loans and re-financing to small and medium sized farms. More than that, the influence of highly-paid lobbyists and international investors further depresses the market for nearly all family-owned food producers.
Dairy farming is a microcosm of the destructive influences bombarding all family-owned food producers – farming, ranching and fishing. The food supply systems reach across family, environmental, justice, trade, property rights, free speech and all our Constitutional rights. We all eat, so we are all exploited by Big Money and corporate disregard for the health and well-being of our families, our nation and our environment.
Farm Women United (FWU)
Farm Women United launched in Pennsylvania and New York State in December 2017 by farm women “no longer willing to be ignored or silenced by the powerful special interests controlling our nation’s farm and food policies.” Other farmers and food activists soon joined the FWU conversations:
“We seek serious, honest and open dialogue that gives a voice to farmers who are the real stewards of the earth and the foundation of any free and civilized society.”
Driving Farm Women United’s determination to voice the truth and concerns of the working farmers who put food on our table is the absence of these farmers when government officials and high-priced agriculture lobbyists write policies and regulations regarding farms and food. Farmers are left out of the decisions impacting their families and farms, along with rural communities and our nation’s food supply.
The questions posted below were first discussed during preparations for March 2019 meetings hosted by FWU first with the Democratic (D) candidate and then with the Republican (R) seeking to fill the open Congressional seat in Pennsylvania’s 12th District. To further educate the public, FWU then decided to host an open Farm and Food Forum: Meet the Candidates event for April 27. Marc Friedenberg (D) immediately committed to attend; Fred Keller (R) declined the invitation. The event was cancelled since the goal was an open forum (not a debate) with both candidates. Instead, a survey with 21 questions went to both candidates; their answers are Part 2 below. Friedenberg individually answered each question; Keller provided one overall response. In late April, Farm Women United endorsed Marc Friedenberg (D) based on his agricultural policies for the May 21, 2019 Special Congressional Election in Pennsylvania’s 12th District.
In late April and early May 2019, FWU members presented at town hall meetings, Bucknell University discussions and a Dartmouth University farm conference. Based on audience questions and discussion, the farm and food questions presented below have been edited, expanded and re-organized. Read the original Candidate Farm and Food Survey at www.farmwomenunited.org.
Here are 21 questions farmers want to ask politicians – if only the politicians would return farmers’ phone calls! Read these questions to better understand why rural America and our nation’s food supply are in danger. Then help family-owned farming, ranching and fishing operations in these ways: buy local, shop at farmer’s markets and farm stores, talk with your local food producers, avoid processed food, read labels, buy American, and ask politicians and candidates for answers to these questions.
21 Farm and Food Questions
- Since the 1970s, America has lost 95% of family-owned dairy farms. In 2018 alone, 2,731 dairy farms went out of business across our nation. Do you believe that small to midsize family farms and related rural businesses are worth saving?
- Do you believe that the control of our food supply by very few, very large players is in the best interest of our nation’s food security?
- Concentration in agriculture means small and medium-sized farms have no economic power in the marketplace. The mega-farms of the “Ag Industry” and unaccountable dairy co-ops have all the economic power. The “Industry” makes record profits, while farmers endure record losses. How would you address this problem?
- Whole milk – which is 97% fat free – has been taken out of the School Lunch Program and replaced with skim milk that many children refuse to drink and skim or 1% flavored milk with added sugars and chemicals. Do you support putting nutritious, whole milk back into the School Lunch Program?
- Transportation, shelf life, texture, color and uniform food products are higher priorities in the food industry than nutrition, health and safety. How would you prioritize the true nutritional value of real food?
- USDA data shows the 2017 average net cash income per farm in the U. S. was $43,053 which must cover livestock, feed, electricity, veterinarian, equipment, barns and other farm expenses as well as family, child and workers expenses. New Hampshire has the lowest annual net income per farm at $2,519. How would you address this crisis?
- The federal government controls the milk pricing formula and sets the price of farm milk without including the farmer’s true “Costs of Production” to produce that milk. No other business enterprise is expected to operate with the government preventing them from covering legitimate costs. The people most negatively impacted by low milk prices, the farmers, have no say in determining the value of milk. Do you support milk pricing reform?
- Do you support a temporary emergency $20 per hundredweight floor price for farm milk while federal hearings investigate our dairy crisis and seek long-term remedies?
- The 2018 Farm Bill “safety net” is woefully inadequate to address low farm milk prices. Will you support “opening” the Farm Bill to implement remedies for the injustice inherent in the current federal milk pricing formula? Would you support raising the “safety net” payments to meet shortfalls related to the federal formula?
- Farmers currently ship their milk under monopoly marketing conditions and many farmers deal with intimidation tactics that prevent them from shipping milk to other processors or through other co-ops. Will you sponsor legislative hearings to investigate the milk market?
- Hundreds of millions of taxpayer and private dollars are being invested to grow milk and meat in laboratories from the genetic material of cows and other animals. These “products,” are really Fake Food and without research are already on the market. Do you support clear, transparent labeling to indicate food products that are lab-grown or chemically enhanced?
- Milk Protein Concentrate (MPC) is a dehydrated and ultra-processed compound widely used in dairy products to extend yields and boost profits, while misleading consumers and replacing traditional, healthy dairy products. These practices often violate Food and Drug Administrations (FDA) standards. The FDA exercises “discretionary enforcement” which to farmers means the government allows industrial agriculture to unfairly compete with family-owned farms. What will you do?
- Lies and misunderstandings about greenhouse gas emissions are harming farmers, while allowing the largest polluters to avoid accountability. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the major economic sectors contribute these percentages to greenhouse gas emissions: transportation (29%), electricity (28%), industrial (22%), commercial/residential (12%) and agriculture (9%). University of California Davis professor Dr. Frank Mitloehner states that all of animal agriculture contributes only 3.9% of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, according to Soil4Climate, proper animal grazing throughout our rangeland could capture up to 800 million tons of carbon per year – about two-thirds of America’s greenhouse gas emissions. How will you educate the public about farming, ranching, our environment and climate change?
- The 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act overhauled the nation’s financial regulations. The act resulted in local banks not having the authority or capability to offer loans to farms and small businesses. How will you give local banks and credit unions more control over farm and small business loans?
- Most farms must expand their herds to qualify for loans. The “bigger is better” bias and forced expansion is sanctioned by lenders and the federal government. Do you think this is wise?
- Assistance for farmers severely impacted by natural disasters is usually in the form of loans that burden farmers already struggling with low commodity prices and tariff wars. What will you do about this unending cycle of low price and high debt?
- Working farming, ranching and fishing operations do not have any say in international trade agreements. Do you believe that food should continue to be part of “Free Trade Agreements?”
- Currently the World Trade Organization (WTO) opposes “Country of Origin Labeling” (“COOL”) for food. How will you ensure consumers know where their food comes from?
- If Congress refuses to fulfill their duties in the public interest by conducting the necessary investigative hearings to bring transparency and solutions to problems affecting dairy farmers, will you conduct local hearings on these issues?
- The general public, politicians and the media confuse factory farming which manages thousands even tens of thousands of cows, chickens or pigs with family-owned farms of a few hundred livestock or less. How can you educate the public about the damages done by factory farms and the higher-quality, more environmentally sustainable, more nutritious food from small and medium farms?
- Sustainable farming, ranching and fishing play a significant role building nutrient-dense soil and waters while fighting climate change. Research points to the many ways farming repairs the environment including efforts to plant more trees, use more compost, rotate crops, and expand grazing of cows. How will you educate politicians, the media and consumers about the wisdom of family farmers and their honorable role as shepherds and healers of our earth?
We all eat. America’s farmers, ranchers and fishing operators need your help. Set aside your urban bias and do something to help rural America, our local food producers and maintaining a quality and nutritious local food supply.
PA 12th Congressional Candidates Answer Farm Women United (FWU) 21 questions
Candidate Marc Friedenberg (D) response to the FWU questionnaire:
1. Save family farms and businesses:
Family farms, particularly dairy farms, are the heart and soul of rural communities in the 12th District. Small and midsize family farms are worth saving not only because they provide a livelihood for thousands of Pennsylvanians, but because they keep alive a set of values and traditions that go back generations. I’ve listened to farmers as I’ve traveled throughout the district, and I know that many of our family farms are struggling against the headwinds of low prices, competition from out-of-state conglomerates and milk substitute products, and bad policies that keep milk products out of schools and hospitals. Our farmers need a champion in Congress who can push through common-sense policies that make our farms profitable and help our rural communities thrive again, and I will be that champion when I’m in Washington.
2. Whole milk back into the School Lunch Program:
Whole milk has proven health benefits for children and should be at the core of the School Lunch Program. Whole milk has been shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and childhood obesity. Our children deserve the best nutrition available, and I’m proud that the dairy farmers of the 12th District provide such a needed product in our schools.
3. Clear, transparent labeling of lab-grown “food products:”
When people go to the grocery store to buy a 16 oz. ribeye they expect it to actually be a 16 oz. ribeye. Consumers have a right to know what they are eating. In Washington, I will support a label on lab-grown products and let consumers decide if they’d rather eat real meat made here in the 12th District or some product that came from a test-tube.
4. The dairy farm crisis:
The stories I heard and the facts I learned from farmers across the 12 District about the deepening, severe economic emergency that dairy farmers and rural communities face cannot be ignored any longer. As a Congressman, I would fight to enact the following policies:
- Set an emergency floor price of $20 per hundredweight under all milk used for manufacturing
- Implement long-term corrections in the methods used to price farmers’ milk, which must accurately reflect the cost of production
- Investigate corruption in the dairy co-op system
- Investigate the role that MPC plays in undermining the consumer retail milk and dairy product market
- Explore the role that Dodd-Frank regulations may play in freezing the credit market for dairy farmers
5. Consumers knowing where their food comes from:
Clothing products must be labeled with their country of origin, so why shouldn’t food be labeled too? Food packaging should include a country of origin label just like many other products sold in the United States. Consumers deserve to know where they are getting their food.
6. Pennsylvania milk production dropped considerably last year, yet most dairy farmers still pay high fees to get their milk to market.
With low milk prices, dairy farmers cannot endure additional fees to market their milk. A similar problem occurs too often with slotting fees that stop small and medium sized farmers from competing with the big guys. We need to regulate the ability of retailers to charge fees to put their product on shelves.
7. Unfair concentration in agriculture:
We need to use our antitrust laws to break up the big agriculture companies who are ruining the market for small farmers. Not only has Big Ag stifled competition in the marketplace, they’ve been manipulating politicians in Washington to do their bidding. Once we break up Big Ag, we need democratic reforms like overturning Citizens United to make sure that Big Ag can’t rise again.
8. Milk Protein Concentrate (MPC):
I support holding public hearings to investigate how MPC undermines the retail dairy market and its nutritional value. If the FDA won’t do their job, then it is up to Congress to get to the bottom of the effects of MPC.
9. Milk price set below farmers Cost of Production:
I am a strong supporter of an emergency floor price of $20 per hundredweight on milk used for manufacturing. Additionally, we must implement long-term corrections in the methods used to price farmers’ milk so that prices accurately reflect the cost of production.
10. Dairy co-operatives violating 1922 Capper-Volstead Act:
We must look into dairy co-operatives for their potentially monopolistic and corrupt behavior. Congress has not taken an active enough role in investigating Capper-Volstead abuses, and I support holding hearings to get to the bottom of dairy co-operatives’ disturbing behavior.
11. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
I believe that most regulations are created by people with good intentions, but that many aren’t scalable to small farms. Very small farming operations are often held to the same bureaucratic standards as very large ones, which means additional and unnecessary meetings, reports, logs, fees, etc. Congress should mandate that EPA regulations be reviewed with an eye toward how they may disproportionately impact small farms.
12. International trade agreements and food in “Free Trade Agreements:”
Trade is a good thing, but only if it is fair. However, it is impossible for trade deals to be fair without the input of farming, ranching, and fishing operations. Food should be a part of every free trade agreement only if the operations that are impacted have a say.
13. “Opening” the 2018 Farm Bill and emergency $20 Floor Price:
I absolutely support implementing an emergency $20 per hundredweight floor price however we can get it done, including opening the 2018 Farm Bill. To address the federal dairy provisions we need to hold hearings on Capitol Hill to give dairy farmers a chance to have their voices heard, and then legislate based on their testimony.
14. Federal government milk pricing formula without farmers Cost of Production:
Through no fault of their own, dairy farmers across the district have been put in a perilous situation because of government’s unwillingness to set a fair price for milk. I support a temporary emergency $20 per hundredweight floor price and will demand to hold hearings on fair milk pricing.
15. The 2018 Farm Bill dairy Safety Net:
As I’ve traveled throughout the 12th District, I’ve heard time and again that the 2018 Farm Bill was a disaster. We must open the Farm Bill and change the federal milk pricing formula and the price floor so small and midsize dairy farmers aren’t left behind.
16. Raising the “safety net” payments:
The 2018 Farm’s Bill’s safety net is totally inadequate for the challenges farmers face today. We must increase payments to make up for dairy farmers’ financial shortfalls and revisit the federal milk pricing formula to ensure that is fair to everyone.
17. Milk pricing reform measures:
It makes no sense that local farmers don’t have a say in determining the price of their products. We must create a clear and transparent milk pricing process that includes everybody’s input, especially local farmers.
18. Shipping milk under monopoly marketing conditions and intimidation:
Markets only work if [producers] are free to compete without fear of intimidation and monopolistic behavior. We must investigate the current state of the milk market and enact reforms to ensure that these anti-competitive obstacles never happen again.
19. 1922 Capper-Volstead Act created monopoly conditions:
Dairy co-operatives have undoubtedly had a harmful effect on the dairy market. I support enforcing our antitrust laws where necessary and pledge to hold hearings on the current state of the dairy market.
20. Conduct necessary investigative hearings:
I will not only conduct hearings on Capitol Hill on the problems facing dairy farmers, but I will also travel across the 12th District to ensure that dairy farmers are being treated fairly. As your representative, I will fight for you and not for big industrial agriculture and other monied interests.
21. Restore local control over farm and small business loans:
Regulations are usually created with good intentions, but they can have negative unintended consequences. I will explore the role that Dodd-Frank regulations may play in freezing the credit market for dairy farmers.
Candidate Fred Keller (R) response to the FWU questionnaire:
After meeting with farmers across Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, including the members of Farm Women United during our hour and a half meeting on March 26, I have had the opportunity to understand the concerns about the dairy industry and milk prices. A possible way to address the price of milk should deal with creating more demand for milk. Some examples include the government allowing whole milk in school lunches and SNAP benefits, as well as labeling of other products that are not milk.
Additionally, there was a suggestion regarding some kind of insurance, similar to crop insurance, to guarantee farmers’ predictability in their milk price based upon their production costs and the futures market. And the idea was that this could be done for several cents per hundred weight. This allows for free market competition, rather than setting an arbitrary price/floor of $20 per hundred weight.
We do not want to revisit the same problems created by the PA Milk Marketing Board, whose over order premium may not always get back to the producer. We need to pursue solutions that come from the free market, not the government.