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USDA to buy cheese to help farmers, hungry families

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

For the second day in a row, measures were set Friday to help struggling dairy producers.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Friday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will buy about $60 million in cheese and cheese products through its Commodity Credit Corp.

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The cheese products will be used in domestic feeding programs through USDA's Food and Nutrition Service. The move is seen as both delivering timely assistance to dairy farmers and to provide much-needed support for low-income families struggling to put nutritious food on their tables, USDA said Friday.

On Thursday, Vilsack announced a $290 million Dairy Economic Loss Assistance Payment program designed to give about 32 cents per 100 pounds of milk to dairy producers who have seen milk prices drop 27 percent this year.

"This purchase will provide food to people in need, while helping dairy producers who are facing economic challenges by increasing demand for dairy products," said Vilsack in a statement. "The Obama administration continues to lend assistance in any way we can to support struggling agricultural industries."

Along with providing market benefits for U.S. dairy producers, commodity purchases such as the $60 million announced Friday provide much-needed food aid -- in the form of high-protein cheese -- to food banks across the nation, Vilsack said. "The purchase continues USDA's long history of delivering nutritional assistance through domestic and international feeding programs, including 15 domestic nutrition programs that touch the lives of one in every five people in America each day."

The aid comes at a time when demand on the nation's food banks has reached an all-time high, USDA said. As Americans across the country work to recover from tough economic times, food banks will continue to see a record demand for nutritious meals.

The 2010 Agricultural Appropriations Act authorized $60 million for the purchase of cheese and cheese products. The cheese purchase marks the second of two steps announced this week by USDA to utilize a total of $350 million authorized under the act. The Dairy Economic Loss Assistance Payment program, which provides $290 million for one-time payments to eligible dairy producers, was the first.

"USDA is committed to helping dairy producers weather current challenges in the market, and this cheese purchase serves as one more example in a long line of USDA efforts this year to provide support," said Jim Miller, under secretary for farm and foreign agriculture services.

USDA spent nearly $1 billion in fiscal year 2009 on purchases of dairy products under the Dairy Price Support Program and payments to producers under the Milk Income Loss Contract, he said.

USDA reactivated the Dairy Export Incentive Program to help U.S. dairy exporters meet prevailing world prices in addition to encouraging the development of international export markets in areas where U.S. dairy products are not competitive due to subsidized dairy products from other countries.

USDA increased the amount paid for dairy products through the Dairy Product Price Support Program. USDA estimates that the increases, which were in place from August through October, increased dairy farmers' revenue by $243 million.

In March, USDA transferred 200 million pounds of nonfat dry milk to USDA's Food and Nutrition Service, which not only removed surplus inventory from the market, but also supported low-income families struggling to put nutritious food on their tables.

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