Vilsack was speaking at a meeting of farmers in South Dakota and made the comments less than a week after the US Congress announced a $350m dairy bailout.
“I think really what will be next in line is a longer-term discussion about whether or not we need to make structural changes in the way the dairy industry is currently operated, so we no longer have these rather stark contrasts between boom and bust,” said Vilsack.
He added that he would like to get federal aid into farmers’ hands as soon as possible. Under the deal announced last week, his department is responsible for distributing $290m in direct support for dairy farmers. The other $60m will cover purchases of surplus cheese and other dairy products to help raise prices. Food banks and other nutrition programmes will get the goods.
“The general principle for me is to get as much money in the pockets of producers as quickly as I can,” he told the 300 farmers and ranchers. He also said he expects the Agriculture Department to look at its price support and marketing programmes to see if changes can be made to help stabilise prices.
“We need to figure out what changes, if any, we need to make to our support programmes, to our marketing programmes, to who’s included in those programmes, to see if there is any way we can create greater stability,” Vilsack said.
He noted that dairy farmers have been selling some cows to help reduce the nation’s milk glut and bring production more in line with demand. He said he’s glad to see the sales managed in a way that doesn’t harm beef prices.
“We’ve seen a reduction of the dairy herds over the course of the last six or seven months,” Vilsack said. “But it’s been done in a controlled way so as not to distort the cattle market, which I appreciate and I’m sure the cattle industry appreciates.”
The National Milk Producers Federation uses money contributed by its members to buy out some farmers’ herds and have them slaughtered to reduce the number of dairy cows nationwide. The Dairy Farmers of America also supports the programme, which has taken tens of thousands of cows out of production in the past year alone.
Source: Associated Press
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