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Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty

Representing the 5th District of Connecticut

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Bipartisan Group of New England Members Urge USDA to Provide Relief to Dairy Farmers

August 23, 2017
Press Release
Members called on USDA to make dairy farmers eligible for Federal Crop Insurance Program & to develop new insurance programs for dairy producers

WASHINGTON – As dairy farmers across New England continue to struggle with historically low milk prices, U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and U.S. Representatives Joe Courtney (CT-2) and Annie Kuster (NH-2) led a bipartisan, bicameral group of 23 other members of Congress on Wednesday in urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to use its authority to provide dairy farmers with the relief and new insurance they desperately need. In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, the members of Congress emphasized that safety net programs for dairy farmers, such as the Margin Protection Program (MPP), have failed to provide farmers with adequate support. They urged the Agriculture Department to make milk an eligible commodity under the Federal Crop Insurance Program – which successfully insures farmers across the country for hundreds of different kinds of crops – and to work with USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) to develop new insurance products for dairy producers.

“We write today to urge the USDA to use its existing authority to provide relief to dairy farmers in New England and across the country. Dairy farmers have had to cope with double-digit price declines year over year since 2014. These struggles are amplified by ongoing difficulties with the MPP and a lack of other risk management options,” wrote the bipartisan group of members of Congress. “We urge you to utilize existing authorities to expand and enhance insurance products for dairy farmers. We request that RMA work with the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to determine milk as a distinct agricultural commodity eligible for Federal Crop Insurance coverage. Additionally, we would urge the RMA to use existing authorities to develop additional dairy insurance products.”

In addition to Murphy, Leahy, Courtney, and Kuster, the following members of Congress signed the letter: U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Angus King (I-Maine), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), as well as U.S. Representatives David Cicilline (RI-1), Elizabeth Esty (CT-5), Bill Keating (MA-9), Jim Langevin (RI-2), John Larson (CT-1), Stephen Lynch (MA-8), Jim McGovern (MA-2), Richard Neal (MA-1), Chellie Pingree (ME-1), Bruce Poliquin (ME-2), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-1), Niki Tsongas (MA-3), and Peter Welch (Vt.). 

Farm milk prices have dropped almost 40% in the last few years, and dairy farmers in New England are struggling to bring in the revenues they need to stay afloat. Many New England members have also been outspoken in urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide emergency assistance to dairy farmers and to take greater action to support New England dairy producers. 

As members of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, Leahy and Murphy pushed for much-needed reforms to MPP as part of the FY2018 Agriculture Appropriations bill. 

This letter comes as part of a growing national effort led by industry and members of Congress calling on the USDA to provide more supports to struggling dairy farmers. In March, the National Farmers Union, the National Milk Producers Federation, and the American Farm Bureau Federation sent a similar letter to the USDA.

The full text of the letter is available online and below: 

The Honorable Sonny Perdue
Secretary of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, D.C. 20250

Dear Secretary Perdue: 

We write today to urge the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to use its existing authority to provide relief to dairy farmers in New England and across the country. Specifically, we request you take necessary steps to make milk an agricultural commodity eligible for Federal Crop Insurance and ask that you work with the Risk Management Agency (RMA) to develop additional insurance products for dairy farmers. 
 
While New England dairy farms tend to be smaller, our dairy community is doing its best to run productive operations that turn a profit. New England’s nearly 1,500 dairy farms are almost all family owned and operated. These dairy farms produced 4.25 billion pounds of milk in 2016, an increase of 68 million pounds from 2014.  Despite this growth and efficiency, dairy farmers have had to cope with double-digit price declines year over year since 2014.   
 
These struggles are amplified by ongoing difficulties with the Margin Protection Program (MPP) and a lack of other risk management options. In 2015, over 700 New England farms enrolled in MPP buy-up coverage. The program’s failure contributed to its dramatic decline in participation. In 2017, enrollment in this buy-up coverage plummeted by 96 percent, with fewer than 30 New England farms purchasing buy-up coverage. Low signup is clear evidence that MPP isn’t providing farmers the needed risk protection. As Congress begins work to reauthorize the Farm Bill, we intend to make necessary reforms to this program. 
 
In the meantime, we believe it’s imperative that the USDA take action to address issues created by MPP’s failure. We urge you to utilize existing authorities to expand and enhance insurance products for dairy farmers. Milk, a commodity by any measure, must be eligible for a range of policies through the Federal Crop Insurance Program. 
 
Existing statute defines the term ‘livestock’ as the actual animal and not the product produced. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 included report language clarifying that Congress did not intend for livestock products to fall under the limitation of livestock insurance policies. Both existing statute and follow-on clarification illustrates USDA has the authority to determine livestock and livestock products are distinct commodities. We request that RMA work with the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to determine milk as a distinct agricultural commodity eligible for Federal Crop Insurance coverage. Additionally, we would urge the RMA to use existing authorities to develop additional dairy insurance products. 
 
Thank you for considering these concerns, and we look forward to working with you in your new role.
 
                                                                        Sincerely,


Christopher S. Murphy                                                                   Joe Courtney 
United States Senate                                                                     Member of Congress 


Patrick Leahy                                                                                  Ann McLane Kuster
United States Senate                                                                     Member of Congress 


Susan M. Collins                                                                             Stephen F. Lynch
United States Senate                                                                     Member of Congress 


Edward J. Markey                                                                          Peter Welch 
United States Senate                                                                     Member of Congress 


Jeanne Shaheen                                                                             Bruce Poliquin
United States Senate                                                                     Member of Congress 


Jack Reed                                                                                       James R. Langevin
United States Senate                                                                     Member of Congress 


Elizabeth Warren                                                                           Niki Tsongas
United States Senate                                                                     Member of Congress 


Richard Blumenthal                                                                       Chellie Pingree
United States Senate                                                                     Member of Congress 


Bernard Sanders                                                                            Carol Shea-Porter
United States Senate                                                                     Member of Congress 


Margaret Wood Hassan                                                                 Richard E. Neal 
United States Senate                                                                     Member of Congress 


Angus S. King   Jr.                                                                          John B. Larson 
United States Senate                                                                     Member of Congress 


Sheldon Whitehouse                                                                      James P. McGovern
United States Senate                                                                     Member of Congress 


Elizabeth H. Esty                                                                             William R. Keating 
Member of Congress                                                                     Member of Congress 

                                                        
David N. Cicilline                                                                            
Member of Congress                                                              
 

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