Udall supports N.M. dairy farmers in meeting with agriculture secretary

WASHINGTON —U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M., today met with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to discuss efforts to address the national dairy crisis. The meeting was held in response to a letter sent by Udall and other senators on July 15th, calling for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to increase dairy price supports by temporarily bumping up the price the USDA pays for dairy products.

As the only Western senator at the meeting, Udall called for the USDA to focus on price support payments, rather than focusing on other dairy programs that disproportionately benefit other regions of the country. In the meeting, Secretary Vilsack committed to increasing the floor for dairy prices through an increase in the Dairy Price Support Program, and he agreed to work with the senators to get this done in a timely fashion.

“I am very encouraged by my discussion with Secretary Vilsack,” said Udall. “He understands that New Mexico’s dairy farmers are getting squeezed between plummeting milk prices and feed prices that have barely budged, and he has committed to doing something to help.”

During the meeting, Secretary Vilsack agreed to boost price support payments by August and to activate the Dairy Export Incentives Program for the coming year. He also announced that at the current level the USDA will spend $1 billion in 2009 on dairy programs. Furthermore, the Secretary agreed to encourage federal and private banks to be lenient when working with dairy farmers who have outstanding loans. Secretary Vilsack said that he will not rely on the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program to help dairy farmers. The MILC program has been criticized in New Mexico for doing too little to meet the needs of the state’s farmers.

“I was pleased that Secretary Vilsack took the time to meet about the problems facing New Mexico’s dairy farmers, and I will work with him to address these problems,” said Udall. “I will continue fighting to ensure that New Mexico’s dairy farmers get the support they need.”

Udall also joined other senators today in writing a letter to Office of Management and the Budget (OMB) Director Peter Orszag. The senators urged the Director to work with Secretary Vilsack to take immediate action on the dairy crisis. Orszag must approve USDA efforts to increase price supports.

Said Udall, “Helping our local and national dairy farmers is essential to long-term economic health. I will work to persuade Director Orszag that increased price supports is an investment in rural America that is worth making.”