Vermont Press Releases

Statement from Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross regarding Senator Leahy’s bipartisan legislation to assist dairy farmers

For Immediate Release
April 20, 2011

Kelly Loftus
Vermont Agency of Agriculture

“The dairy industry is a critical component of our economy, communities and open working landscape. The shortage of domestic labor is particularly acute for dairy farmers, who need year – round employees.”

“Even in a down economy, it has been a challenge for our dairy farmers to find sustainable labor sources. The H-2A program would provide a resource for dairy farmers to procure the assistance they need to keep their farms running.”

“Senator Leahy’s leadership on this issue is greatly appreciated. It will help Vermont dairy farmers, and farmers across the nation to access long term, legal workers for their businesses. I am hopeful that the other members of Congress will follow the lead of Vermont’s Congressional Delegation – Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders and Congressman Welch.”

Chuck Ross, Secretary
Vermont Agency of Agriculture

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  • Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2011 McDonald’s will hire 50,000 people — in one day. For those of us looking for college grads, a study says the best place to find them is on LinkedIn. For those of us looking for oddballs I suggest looking no further than WorldCon 2011. Career Builder reports that the hiring outlook in the US is the strongest in three years.

    The story above implies that Americans for whatever reason perhaps because they like the work or because it pays good wages or because McDonalds offers good benefits, are easily attracted to job openings at McDonalds.

    Meanwhile (same day) the story coming out of Washington is that it (literally) takes an act of congress to entice immigrants to work on Vermont dairy farms, which implies that Americans, perhaps because they don’t like the work perhaps because the pay is not good enough perhaps because there are few if any benefits, do not want to work on dairy farms.

    I think it is well established that McDonalds, while dry and clean, is not the most interesting place to work. I think it is equally well known that the benefits are not great. The wages simply can’t be that good either. So let’s assume it is a combination of these three things: Americans without help from their senators or acts of congress have opportunities to work at McDonalds and on dairy farms and they overwhelmingly choose McDonalds. So what’s happening on dairy farms that make working there so unattractive? It could be the working environment (dirty); it could be the hours (very long) it could be the benefits (non-existent) and it could be the wages (low); Let’s say it is a combination of these four. But surely raising workers’ wages would at some point offset the other three: why don’t dairy farmers raise wages to attract Americans?

    Because they are struggling to make ends meet and the farms are closing. We learn every time we pick up a newspaper that the federal milk marketing orders, written during the Depression, are antiquated and unfair, that dairy farmers are getting the short end of the stick, that their prices are subject to volatility, that wicked retail grocers and unethical processors are grabbling the lion’s share of the money from milk sales leaving little for dairy farmers. They need help.

    Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross and sadly Senator Patrick Leahy, continue a venerable tradition in Vermont of giving dairy farmers what they say they want in spite of the fact that what they want is what they least need. In this case, Senator Leahy “helps” dairy farmers, struggling dairy farmers, to have access to immigrant labor that, because it doesn’t pay even as well as working at McDonalds, Vermonters don’t want.

    Here is another story in the press from last week:

    USDA estimates milk production this year, despite higher feed prices and good cull cow prices, to be 3.2 billion lb. higher than in 2010. The agency currently estimates production to reach 196.0 billion lb. The all-milk price is expected to average $18.40, a vast improvement over last year’s $16.29 average. However, with higher feed prices, the result is essentially trading dollars for dollars.

    So they are struggling even though milk production is up but prices are flat. What’s surprising about that? Didn’t we learn in school that when supply rises prices go down? Yes: but dairy farmers did not learn this. Dairy farmers insist on higher production and they want higher prices for it. That’s right: more milk means higher prices to dairy farmers. And to keep production rising, they need the lower their costs. They need to be exempted from sales tax, from property tax, they need acts of congress to access cheap immigrant labor, they need the Vermont legislature to write statutes that permit them to grow corn on river bottom land with artificial fertilizers and herbicides that pollute the lake so they can stuff their cows with high energy feed in order to keep production up or rising. They cannot bring themselves to control milk production to bring prices up because to them supply control or quotas smack of socialism.

    Vermonters are told in the above story that farming is vital to the state’s economy (dairy farming spends $600M to get back $450M which is a mere 0.2% of Vermont’s $25B GDP) that it is an essential part of our character (there are fewer than 900 dairy farmers in Vermont which is 0.15% of the population.) It is time to bring dairy farming and Vermont into focus and to see the industry for what is really is. I am a strong supporter of small to medium-sized organic dairy farms. These farms are exactly what 97% of Vermonters had in mind when they told the Survey on the Future of Vermont that they support agriculture. These farms do not over produce their markets, they earn a profit making milk for local consumption, they do not pollute the lake. Vermonters need to remind Mr. Leahy, Mr. Sanders, Mr. Welch and Mr Ross that their support for conventional dairy farms hurts farmers (empirically this is so: why else are they going out of business?) and Vermont, because they make more and more milk every year for which there is no market, because they pollute the lake, because they require acts of congress in order to access labor, because they lose hundreds of millions a year for the state economy, and because they pay no income, sales or property taxes driving up the cost of our schools, hospitals, roads and all social programs for the rest of us. Let’s get real and support the small to medium-sized dairy farms that matter, not the large ones that don’t.