Commentary: Investing in Minnesota’s Dairies

Published 8:25 am Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Minnesota’s dairy farms are in a full-blown crisis, and inaction at the State Capitol places meaningful solutions to this crisis at risk. Our state has lost over 270 dairy farms since the beginning of this year. With milk prices in a slump, along with a destructive winter, the family dairies that remain are barely staying afloat. Even the federal government has seen the merits of supporting our small and medium sized dairies. The 2018 federal Farm Bill authorized the Dairy Margin Coverage program, which offers financial protections to dairies when the margin between milk prices and feed costs falls below a sustainable level. This is a program that will be available to Minnesota’s dairy farmers when registration opens on June 17.

The Minnesota House has been proactive in passing measures that address the hardships our farmers are facing, including a $10 million provision in the Jobs and Energy budget that funds DAIRI, the Dairy Assistance, Investment, and Relief Initiative. This initiative provides grants to small dairy farms with herds of 750 cows or fewer, allowing them to buy into the newly-established Dairy Margin Coverage Program, providing them with a sorely-needed threshold of income.

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The $10 million in DAIRI funding proposed by the Minnesota House is the work of both rural and urban democrats, many of whom don’t have a dairy in their district, but who recognize the importance of Minnesota’s dairy industry, and the need to act in order to preserve our farming communities. The Minnesota Senate included funds in their Ag budget, but at only $2 million, it fails to fund the initiative at the level needed to properly assist our farmers.

The Minnesota House is prioritizing dairy assistance with this prudent one-time investment of $10 million, which would provide a profoundly significant benefit to our dairy farmers. This is a difficult issue that requires a pragmatic approach, and that includes seriously funding DAIRI. Our dairy farmers require more than a band-aid. The time is now for the Minnesota Senate to increase their investment in our farmers.

So far negotiations have not bridged the gap between the House and Senate funding amounts, and as talks resume this week, family dairy farms continue to struggle. The remaining days of the legislative session will focus of various budget talks, and it’s crucial our dairies aren’t left behind. We ask you to join us in calling on our colleagues in the Senate to recognize the importance of assisting Minnesota’s dairy farms, the small, family-run farms that make up our rural communities. Over 10 percent of the dairy farms in our state have had to shut down, but there’s still time for the Legislature to act if we’re all able to come to the table with the common goal of helping our small family dairy farmers. We can still do what’s right for Minnesota’s farm communities.

Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL – St. Paul) is the Chair of the House Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division. Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL – Austin) is the Chair of the House Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division.