(The Center Square) – Maine’s congressional delegation is among a bipartisan group of lawmakers urging the federal government to evaluate its decades-old milk pricing system, arguing that it is putting a financial squeeze on many small and midsize dairy farmers.
In a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins called for a review of the Federal Milk Marketing Order system to "ensure that it is working in the best interests of all farms, regardless of the size of its operations."
"We would also like to ensure that the FMMO Program is being administered in a manner that does not cause undue burden and cost for state dairy regulatory and support programs that maintain the viability of small-scale farms," the lawmakers wrote.
King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, and Collins, a Republican, asked the GAO to review the milk pricing system to determine if it should be updated to "assure the sustainability of small and midsize farms" and whether a tiered payment structure or different size operations should be considered, among other recommendations.
The letter, also signed by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, described the federal milk pricing program as "one of the most complicated economic systems in the country" and says it forces farmers to contend with "potentially volatile milk prices and the risk of inadequate pay."
The system is nearly a century old, the lawmakers said, and doesn't account for problems such as the pandemic, which disrupted milk prices in 2020, as well as the impact of climate change.
Couple with rising costs and tougher market competition, the antiquated system has forced many small dairy farmers to leave the industry, the lawmakers said.
Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that the U.S. has lost nearly 60% of licensed dairy operations since 2003, while the number of dairy farms has declined by 58% from 70,375 to 29,858 during the same time period.
"The accelerating loss of so many small farming operations, particularly in the regions dependent on them for their milk supplies, would appear to be at odds with "stable marketing relationships for all handlers and producers supplying marketing areas,"' the lawmakers wrote.
Collins and King were primary sponsors of a bill requiring the Department of Agriculture to initiate hearings that review the federal milk pricing system. The bill was introduced in the Senate in December 2021, but hasn't come up for a vote.