Board approves emergency dairy subsidies

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(Host) The Vermont Emergency Board has given its unanimous approval to a plan to spend $8.6 million on state subsidies for dairy farmers. The first payments will be made next week and should continue for the next five months.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports

(Kinzel) It’s been a tough couple of months for dairy farmers throughout the state. Wet weather all spring made it very difficult to plant crops, higher energy prices drove costs up and low federal milk prices reduced the cash flow for many farmers.

To help out in the short term, the state’s Emergency Board has given its approval to a plan to provide farmers with a subsidy based on their milk production. It’s expected that the average subsidy for Vermont’s 1,150 dairy farms will be roughly a thousand dollars a month for a five-month period.

Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr described to members of the Emergency Board the conditions that many farmers are now facing:

(Kerr) “On one field it’s kind of gravelly, the corn is actually curled up because it needs some rain. In the center of that field where the water set, there’s nothing except green algae growing.”

(Kinzel) Kerr says this is a program where direct state intervention can provide short term benefits for many dairy farmers:

(Kerr) “It’s going to make a difference. I know we all wonder sometimes whether what we’re able to do really is going to matter and this is just a classic bottom line, as well as psychological issue.”

(Kinzel) Congress is considering a plan to allocate over $4 billion in federal crop relief grants this summer. Kerr says Vermont’s share of this program would be $54 million. Kerr sees the state subsidy as a way to help farmers survive until the federal money arrives:

(Kerr) “I think this one is going to turn out to have been the all-important bridge between the disaster and the $54 million bucks, because the payoff is the $54 million. That’s what’s going to buy feed for this winter. The $8.6 million is not going to buy feed for this winter, the $54 million is. But this is going to pay a lot of bills.”

(Kinzel) The state will also spend $300,000 this summer to promote farmers’ markets and roadside fruit and vegetable stands as a way to increase local demand for these products.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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