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Senator Gillibrand, in white, listens to farmers at the Andrews Farm in Fowler.  (Photo: Julie Grant)
Senator Gillibrand, in white, listens to farmers at the Andrews Farm in Fowler. (Photo: Julie Grant)

Gillibrand hopes to give NE farmers a voice in Washington

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U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has been touring New York's agricultural areas to hear from farmers. The Senate is already starting debate on the 2012 Farm Bill. Gillibrand is the first New Yorker on the Senate Agriculture Committee in 40 years.

She told St. Lawrence County farmers she wants to make sure Northeast farmers have a voice when the new Farm Bill is written. She asked how federal policycan better serve the people in the fields and barns. Julie Grant attended the listening session at Bob Andrews' farm in Fowler.

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Farmers and others interested in farm policy.  (Photo: Julie Grant)

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Reported by

Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer

Senator Gillibrand sat on a bale of hay with flies buzzing in the air as around fifty farmers faced her with comments and questions about agricultural policy.  They were sitting in a barn on Bob Andrew’s farm.  Andrews wanted to give her an idea how things had changed since he and his wife started milking cows in 1978.

"We broke 12 dollar and fifty cent milk that October.  Twenety-six months ago, I sold milk for 9-dollars and 80 cents", Andrew's stated. "And my costs had gone up at least 3 and 4 times."

Senator Gillbrand reacted, calling the drop in price "Outrageous".

Andrews says he, like most dairy farmers, is getting older. 

"I’m 59 years old.  These farmers that are milking cows are in the same category.  We lost 20-percent of the dairy farmers in the nation over the last 4 years.  If we go through that again, you’re going to see the largest exodus of dairy farmers of dairy farmers that the United States has ever seen."

Senator Gillibrand wants to prevent that from happening.  She said that, as the first New Yorker on the Senate Agricultural committee in 40 years, she’s in a position to help: 

"New York has a voice in writing farm policy. So we want to make sure that when we write the farm bill next year that our voice is heard loud and clear."

Farmers also wanted to talk about labor and immigration issues, free trade, and environmental regulations. 

But mostly, they wanted to talk about dairy pricing policy.  Farmers saw the need for reform when the price of milk tumbled in 2009, and farm policy failed to provide a safety net.  A new dairy bill is expected to be introduced this year that is separate from the Farm Bill. One piece of it would try to raise prices by limiting supply.

John Greenwood is a dairy farmer, and is head of the St. Lawrence County Farm Board.  He’s worried:

"At a time when New York is looking to grow it’s dairy industry, with the manufacturing plants coming in, and the Governor’s office saying we need 20-percent more milk, I don’t think is the time to be looking at cutting milk production."

Senator Gillibrand said that New York’s issues are different then other states, so she needs farmers to speak up.

"We are the third producing dairy state in the country." Gillbrand said, "We really need to be heard in this farm bill.  It’s not Democratic versus Republican – it is regional – it is the Midwest vs the west coast vs the east coast, and I really want to make sure the northeast dairy interests are well represented."

Gillibrand has held a dozen of these listening sessions with farmers around the state.  She invited farmers to contact her office (212-481-2010) to help as she works to craft farm policy with other leaders on the agricultural committee.

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