Progressive Party calls for long-term dairy strengthening policies

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(Host) Leaders of Vermont’s Progressive Party are calling on the Legislature to adopt long-term policies to help strengthen the state’s dairy industry.

Their proposal includes a plan to build a new processing plant that would market a special brand of Vermont milk throughout New England.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) On Thursday, several hundred people are expected to attend a Dairy Summit at the Statehouse to consider ways to help farmers deal with a looming financial crisis caused by low milk prices, high energy costs and fields drenched by steady rains.

Members of the Vermont Progressive Party say the summit is also a great opportunity to focus on long-term solutions to help preserve family farms.

At a Statehouse press conference they outlined several proposals.

They encouraged the state of Vermont, local schools and any company that does business with the state to purchase milk produced in Vermont. The Progressives also called for the construction of a processing plant to market a new brand of Vermont milk.

In the short term, they backed the creation of state premium program that would offer special grants to farmers over the next few months – these grants would be roughly 5000 dollars per farm.

House Agriculture chairman David Zuckerman says the current crisis represents an opportunity to make some structural changes in the state’s milk industry.

(Zuckerman) “While we’re in this scenario if we’re not all talking about creative ideas to really change the structural system that farmers are getting for their milk, then we’re going to be back here in 3 to 5 years. We’re going to lose a bunch of farmers this cycle and we’ll lose a bunch more over the next 5 years. We need to take this crisis and frankly turn it into an opportunity to resolve this cyclical problem that we face every 3 to 5 years.”

(Kinzel) North Troy Rep. Dexter Randall is a dairy farmer. He says the time has come to consider a wide range of plans to help family farmers:

(Randall) “The commodity market system which dairy farmers have been operating in for many many years is in the conventional milk market is broken and we need to find a way to get outside of the box and so that farmers can get more money out of the marketplace and back to the farmer.”

(Kinzel) Franklin County Democratic senator Sara Kittell is the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture committee. She says many of the Progressive proposals deserve strong consideration. Kittell also hopes to find more state funds to help dairy farmers who want to become organic producers. She notes that this aspect of the state’s milk industry is booming:

(Kittell) “By the end of ’07 we’ll have 200 or so organic farms in Vermont I’d love to double number in the sense that we do have a window of a number of years with this market the organic market.”

(Kinzel) Kittell also wants lawmakers to consider a regional price system that could include quotas that would reward farmers for staying within certain production levels.

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

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