Hundreds of dairy farmers turned out in St. Albans today. The annual meeting allows them share ideas, catch up and hear from lawmakers trying to push a new Farm Bill through Capitol Hill.
Vermont's Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross, said Saturday, "Vermont's image is tied to dairy"
Dairy, an industry of about a thousand farms across the state, bringing in more than 14 thousand jobs and two and a half billion dollars. And at the 94th annual St. Albans Cooperative meeting Saturday, it was a time for dairy farmers to hear praise.
"For decades you guys have carried the ball for agriculture in this state" said Ross.
As well as challenges.
"We're going to need all the help we can get to tackle the two issues of water quality and agricultural literacy" said Ross.
And the topic on everyone's mind was the Farm Bill renewal saga playing out on Capitol Hill. The bill is a five-year-plan that gives farmers long-term stability in an industry marked by fluctuating prices. It expired at the end of last year.
Alan Bourbeau of Bourbeau and Sons Farm commented, "I don't understand why it takes so long for them to pass a Farm Bill. They've known for a long time that it had to be done"
Vermont's congressional delegation echoed their frustration.
"I don't know how you handle the stress of the constant roller coaster" said Leahy.
But Representative Peter Welch says he's hopeful the bill will make it to the House floor soon.
"I have some optimism that we're going to be able to vote on this bill." said Welch.
Dairy farmers we spoke with say it can't come soon enough. An extension granted them a minimum price for milk through September. But they say that really doesn't help them plan for the future.
Wayne Fiske of Windfall Acres Farm said Saturday, "Right now any future purchases you have no idea where milk prices are going to be a year from now as to make any purchases that you need today to run the farm"
At the cooperative meeting here in St. Albans, we heard from farmers concerned about grain prices, fuel prices, and milk prices. But they're also concerned about the future generation of farming.
"Without the help of their parents, it's going to be impossible for the younger generation to buy the family farm. Impossible." said Bourbeau.
That's a reality that has been facing farms as the number of dairies in the state has dropped drastically in the past few decades. But Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin says the state will continue its programs to encourage local dairy.
"It's been really tough for our dairy farmers and I believe that our best AG days are ahead of us. But we've got to help them continue to prosper." said Gov. Shumlin.
It's not all bad news Vermont's milk production went up slightly last year.
Senator Leahy also said dairy farmers need legal access to immigrant labor. He plans to make sure they're heard in any new immigration reform bill.