Douglas seeks federal disaster aid for Vermont dairy farmers

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas is seeking 20 million dollars in federal disaster aid for Vermont dairy farmers who have been battered by high energy prices and wet fields.

At the same time, Vermont’s congressional delegation is working on a multi-million dollar emergency assistance grant program for these farmers.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Douglas says he made the decision to seek emergency federal assistance after learning that the accumulation of rain over the last 6 weeks has damaged crops in every county in Vermont.

The governor says it’s critical to hold a dairy summit in the next few weeks because many farmers are facing a financial crisis:

(Douglas) “Our dairy farmers are facing a perfect storm of low milk prices high fuel and other energy costs and poor crops or in some cases destroyed crops because of the extended spring rains that we’ve had. So we need to step in.”

(Kinzel) Douglas hopes the summit will come up with some innovative ways to help dairy farmers lower their production costs.

(Douglas) “It may mean redirecting resources. It mean being creative in how we administer certain programs. I don’t want to limit the creativity of the discussion at the summit, but we need to be sure that state government and the private sector and the industry itself come together to brainstorm and come up with the best ideas we can.”

(Kinzel) While the governor is seeking federal loan money, the state’s congressional delegation is working to make emergency grant funds available to dairy farmers.

They were hoping to include the money in a new supplemental budget bill this week. But President Bush has threatened to veto the legislation if the national grant program remains in the bill – Congressional leaders have removed grant provision from the legislation.

Congressman Bernie Sanders is very disappointed with the turn of events:

(Sanders) “If we do not act forcefully we’re going to lose a lot of dairy farmers in Vermont and all over this country and that is going to be a disaster for rural America.”

(Kinzel) Sanders says making emergency loans available will help some farmers but he says many more can’t afford to take on any additional debt:

(Sanders) “You’re talking about whether or not farmers in Vermont are going to make it or whether they’re going to stay in business. And it’s not just a question of incurring more and more debt. They’re deeply in debt – in many cases already. They need more help than that.”

Sanders says the congressional delegation hopes to build bi partisan support for the national emergency grant program to convince the president to support the plan.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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