Kuster seeks input from farmers on Farm Bill

HANOVER, N.H. (WCAX) Farmers gathered at Dartmouth Tuesday to speak out about their ongoing financial struggles. It comes as the number of traditional dairy farms in our region continues to shrink at a steady rate.

The Dartmouth Organic Farm in Hanover had a special guest Tuesday -- Congresswoman Annie Kuster, D-New Hampshire. But she brought with her some bad news from the past year. "New Hampshire lost -- for a variety of reasons -- nineteen dairy farms and we only started with 120, so that is not sustainable," she said.

Kuster, who sits on the House Agriculture Committee, is traveling the region meeting with farmers to hear their concerns. For dairy farmer Shirley Tullar of Lyme, the price she gets for her milk continues to be the biggest problem. "You can not break even on that so you have to supplement it with outside income," Tullar said.

There are a variety of issues plaguing farmers in the Northeast, including the high cost of feed, and unforseen weather events like the recent drought in parts of New England. The milk Margin Protection Program in the most recent farm bill was designed to help in bad years, but farmers say they haven't see any relief. "Not working, not working at all," Tullar said.

"We are losing so many farms, there comes a limit of how many more we can lose," said Bob Wellington with Agri-Mark, the dairy cooperative that makes Cabot Cheese. He says one solution is focusing on value added products. "Cabot is a good example where farmers have had good returns into their investments into the Cabot brand."

And then there is organic, a market which is growing at about 10-percent a year. But those in the industry, like Roger Noonan with the New England Farmers Union, say fast growth is not always a good thing. "When we have a rapid growth in any sector, there is a tendency to create an oversupply situation,' he said.

Economics that create an uncertain future for those who work the land, an industry Kuster says needs support. "Protect the planet, grow healthy food, and make sure the farmers get a good economic benefit from it," she said.

They are issues that lawmakers have a little bit of time to figure out. The next farm bill is up for reauthorization in 2018.