By BRENDA COCHRAN
Thank you for Alyssa Murphy's article ("Dairy herd dwindle," March 12, issue) which was insightful and deserving of its prominent place on the front page of the paper.
I, too, am a dairy farmer, and I agree with Donna Hall. She is right on with her assessment of the dire situation confronting dairy farmers. Since 1981, the federal government--at all levels-- has implemented dairy policies designed to lower the monetary value of raw milk on the farm.
To "encourage" more and more dairy farmers to "exit the business" in order to implement global "Free Trade" agreements that continue to this day to displace American milk with imported dairy products and "ingredients" like milk protein concentrate (MPC).
These policies that devalue farmers' raw milk below what it costs to produce it are unconscionable, the dark work of politicians who have bought into the free trade agenda pushed by certain elements of the dairy "industry."
Hundreds of thousands of dairy farmers have already been forced out of business by these policies. The rural infrastructure of our once vibrant and flourishing dairy communities is in shambles, and few, if any, dairy farming youth plan to or can take over the "family farm."
Of course Marcellus money is easing regional dairy farmers out of their misery.
No farmer can survive indefinitely the crushing stress that ensues from selling milk below what it costs to produce it, and the shale income is an "incentive" to stop milking cows.
Of additional concern to those still milking cows is the Marcellus shale activity being conducted on cropland which has a negative impact on the feed supply for local dairy cattle and the Marcellus site utilization of various forage and bedding materials that traditionally were available for farm animals.
I guess we should emphasize the positive. We can use all this Marcellus gas to cook our imported food.
That is, if there is any gas left here not exported into the "global market."
An effort to reverse the destructive federal dairy policies of the past 31 years is underway with Sen. Robert Casey, Jr.'s bill "The Federal Milk Marketing Improvement Act" (S-1640) which, if passed, seeks to return a measure of justice to milk pricing by allowing dairy farmers to receive a price for their milk that includes the cost to produce the raw milk, giving dairy farmers a long overdue chance to pay their bills.
I have been enjoying your series "Portraits of Prosperity," but unless legislation like S-1640 is passed, no one needs to waste any time trying to assemble a "Portrait of Prosperity" issue for the dairy farming sector.
S-1640 needs the support of all who believe that farmers deserve a fair milk price and that fresh, local food is vital to the health of consumers and to our nation's national security.
Without a drastic change in current federal dairy policy, seeing dairy cows across the countryside will become rare, indeed, regardless of Marcellus shale money.
Cochran is a dairy farmer since 1975 and owns and operates a 250-cow dairy farm in Westfield with her husband Joe and their 14 children.