Wellstone listens to dairy farmers

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 5, 2000

HAYFIELD – On Friday, Sen.

Saturday, August 05, 2000

HAYFIELD – On Friday, Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) visited the Lowell and Barb Bekkedahl dairy farm east of Hayfield to meet with dairy producers to discuss how he hopes to help out dairy farmers – at least in the short term until a new farm bill can rectify low commodity prices.

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Last week, Wellstone introduced legislation to increase the dairy support price level from $9.90 to $12.50.

Wellstone’s proposal would set a floor on the milk prices, regardless of region, allowing farmers to earn a price that covers the cost of production and reducing the wild price fluctuations that have occurred over the past few years.

"For too long, Congress has ignored the economic crisis our nation’s dairy farmers are facing," Wellstone said. "We need a federal dairy policy that allows hard-working dairy farmers to produce nutritious milk at affordable prices and ear a decent living and yet farmers in Minnesota are receiving less than $10 for the same hundredweight.

Only two weeks ago, Wellstone visited Hollandale, where he heard crop and vegetable farmers tell of their woes. Vegetable farmers, in particular, have been devastated by the summer’s rains and flooding, which are sure to reduce yields at harvest.

But even with a bumper crop, the low commodity prices, plus government subsidies, only ensure that they can farm the next year.

Farmers say they deserve more than that.

That theme recurred time and time again from producers at the Bekkedahl dairy farm Friday, where they sat on hay bales in the shade of an oak tree in the family’s front yard.

More than once, Wellstone was interrupted with emotional words from the producers.

When the senator reiterated, "I’m looking for a way to get income out into the countryside and stabilize prices," the producers countered with stories of their own.

Among them one from an unidentified Houston County dairy and crop farmer.

"Yes. I picked my profession, but I didn’t pick poverty," he said, "Farmers feed the world, while farm families are starving and can’t make any money."

"While the rest of society prospers, farmers are working hard, but not sharing in that prosperity," he said. "And all government is saying is ‘let’s keep the farmers in business one more year’ That’s all the current policies are doing. Just keeping us going one more year."

There are over 8,000 dairy farms in Minnesota, ranking the state fifth in the nation in dairy production.

The milk production from Minnesota farms generates more than $1.2 billion for the state’s farmers each year. A recent University of Minnesota study, cited by Wellstone, determined that dairy production in Minnesota creates an additional $1.2 billion in economic activities for related industry.

However, over the last 10 months milk prices have declined by over 40 percent, bringing the price of milk to its lowest level since the 1970s and driving family dairy farmers out of business.

As for his own proposals, which will be considered by Congress in September, Wellstone was hopeful they would pass, but he said there is more work to be done to correct the situation in agriculture and that will take time.

"I just want to be honest with you: I’m just trying to figure out a way people can survive until we get there," Wellstone said. "I’m just trying to get some emergency measures passed. It’s only a stop-gap, I know, but we need it and we need it now."