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Senators seek aid for hog, dairy farmers

Measures to help hog and dairy producers were sought this week by both of Minnesota's senators.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken, DFL-Minn., and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., were joined Thursday by 23 other senators in requesting U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack buy $100 million of pork from struggling hog farmers.

On Wednesday, an amendment cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., to provide additional relief to dairy farmers passed a Senate-House conference committee. It would help dairy producers struggling with plummeting dairy prices by providing the U.S. Department of Agriculture with $350 million to buy milk and other dairy products.

"Right now pig farmers across Minnesota are facing a crisis," Franken said in a statement about his measure. "This isn't the result of bad financial planning, just bad luck and a worse economy. Farmers are the backbone of our state, and I'm going to do what I can to help them."

Since September 2007, the U.S. pork industry lost $4.6 billion, with farmers losing an average of more than $21 on every hog sent to market, Franken said.

A number of factors contributed to the severe losses, including rising farming input costs and a worldwide recession. The losses were only exacerbated with the outbreak of the H1N1 virus misnamed swine flu, and that misinformation that caused unwarranted export bans, he said.

Franken and Barr also asked Vilsack to work with federal agencies to help monitor the H1N1 virus on farms and work with the U.S. trade representative to re-open export markets to U.S. pork around the world, especially China.

Klobuchar's amendment is part of the 2010 agriculture appropriations bill and would provide USDA with $60 million in additional funds to enable it to increase the level at which the government buys surplus dairy products off of the market for food banks and other nutrition and feeding programs, and $290 million in direct support to dairy farmers using guidelines to be determined by the Secretary of Agriculture under an expedited process.

"Minnesota's farmers are at the heart of our agriculture industry," said Klobuchar. "The dairy farmers I've met with around the state are bearing the brunt of market forces beyond their control. We must continue to fight for Minnesota's farmers during these difficult times."

As a result of the economic crisis, the dairy industry is struggling to survive during a difficult time of low commodity prices, unusually high costs and a drop-off in international demand, she said.

Over the last several months, Klobuchar has advocated for a host of actions to help dairy farmers get through the crisis.

In July, Klobuchar sent a letter with Vermont Sens. Pat Leahy and Bernie Sanders asking Vilsack to temporarily boost price supports for dairy farmers. She then met with Vilsack, and soon after that meeting, USDA raised the federal price supports effective August through October, increasing farmers' revenue by $243 million.

In May, after working with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and USDA, Klobuchar announced that USDA would launch a program to help dairy exporters compete with world prices, which are kept artificially low through subsidies.

In February, she joined with other senators to send a letter to Vilsack asking him to take action to help stabilize prices and protect Minnesota's farmers from the rapidly declining milk prices. Then, at a White House Middle-Class Task Force meeting in St. Cloud in March, Klobuchar urged the Agriculture secretary to provide help to Minnesota dairy farmers as soon as possible.

Shortly after the meeting, Klobuchar announced that USDA would create a program to purchase dairy products from the market and provide them to food shelf programs in order to stabilize prices and boost demand, effectively leveling the playing field for U.S. dairy producers.