Legislature finalizes farm assistance package

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(Host) Legislation that creates an emergency financial aid package for Vermont dairy farmers is moving through the Legislature in record time.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Usually it takes months for a bill to make its way successfully through both the House and Senate. Sponsors of this bill are hoping to have their plan on the governor’s desk ready for his signature in a week.

The bill makes two new financial assistance programs available to dairy farmers. The first program will give eligible farmers a moratorium on outstanding bank loan payments for a nine-month period. The state will guarantee $2.5 million of these loan payments and individual loans up to $100,000 will be considered under this program. The goal of this proposal is to allow farmers to have more cash available at the beginning of the growing season.

The second program will provide farmers with low interest loans for operating expenses this spring. Twenty million dollars will be available under this program. Senate Agriculture Chair Sara Kittell (D-Franklin County) says it’s critical to get these programs up and operating in the next few days:

(Kittell) “We’ve had for a year and a half the record low milk prices. You know, I talked to the farmers and they say, we’ve always had the up and down milk prices. And they said, well it’s never been so low so long. People have already gone to their banks and borrowed probably all the money they can, a number of them. And also what we’ve learned is some of these are the young farmers who have expanded in the last five year, haven’t owned the farm that long, and they don’t have any more equity build up.”

(Kinzel) Kittell says the best long term solution to low milk prices may be the creation of a national supply management system. Under this system, farmers would receive a higher price for a specified amount of milk and a lower price for all milk produced above this level:

(Kittell) “I have hopes for this supply management system. I think we have all these farmers that want to produce and want to work with livestock, produce milk. You don’t grow farmers every day – we ought to give them every opportunity to continue farming. And finally the industry is looking at it nationally instead of pitting one farm against another farm. Let’s look at the national dairy production.”

(Kinzel) The bill could be on the House floor for debate earlier as Wednesday afternoon.

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

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