Wisconsin dairy farmers should see milk payments soon
MILWAUKEE (AP)--Wisconsin dairy farmers hurt by a collapse in milk prices should get help soon from the federal government, Gov. Jim Doyle said March 2.
Doyle met March 2 with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. He said Vilsack assured him the U.S. Department of Agriculture was working to get Milk Income Loss Contract payments out quickly. The program pays dairy farmers when domestic milk prices fall below a certain level.
Milk and other commodity prices began collapsing last fall. Dairy farmers have been squeezed because feed and other costs have remained high even as milk prices dropped.
The MILC program pays farmers when milk prices drop below about $17 per hundredweight. Payments are based on the Boston Class 1 milk price, and prices vary nationwide.
The average price for milk paid to Wisconsin farmers in February is expected to be $10.30 per hundredweight, the National Agricultural Statistics Service reported March 2. That would be $2.90 less per hundredweight than January's average price and nearly $9 less than a year ago.
February is probably the first month that prices will be low enough to trigger payments, said Kevin Beekman, the chief programs specialist for price support in the USDA Farm Service Agency's Minnesota office. But farmers who sign up for payments based on February prices probably won't see them until April because the payment formula includes consideration of feed prices, and that information isn't yet available, Beekman said.
He said he wasn't sure when the last time milk payments were made, but it has been at least a year.
Doyle said Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, understands the problems farmers are facing.
"He knows this is really critical, about what is happening in dairy country right now," Doyle said from Washington, D.C., in a conference call with reporters.
Along with issuing milk payments, Doyle said he and Vilsack talked about loan guarantee programs to help farmers hurt by banks' sudden tightening of credit and programs to generate nonfarm jobs in rural areas. Farm families often have at least one person working off the farm to provide income, and they have been hurt by layoffs in other industries, Doyle said.
He and Vilsack also discussed how federal stimulus money could be used to help rural areas with housing, waste disposal, construction of broadband networks and food programs.
Wisconsin could get money for rural energy programs. Doyle said he and Vilsack talked about the state's role as a leader in the use of digesters, which convert methane from cow manure into electricity. Doyle mentioned a proposal to build a digester in Dane County that could serve multiple farms. He said he wanted to put it on Vilsack's radar.
"In Wisconsin, we are scouring every piece of that recovery act to make sure we are taking full advantage," he said.
Doyle also plans to meet with Energy Secretary Steven Chu and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson while in Washington. He and other governors are expected to participate in a symposium March 3 looking at the economic effects of climate change.