$350 million earmarked for dairy relief

President Barack Obama signed legislation last week to provide $350 million in emergency assistance for hard-pressed dairy farmers.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) sponsored an amendment that added the dairy funds to the Department of Agriculture appropriations bill. He joined the president at the White House for the Oval Office bill-signing ceremony.

The measure provides $290 million for direct support to dairy farmers. Another $60 million will be used to purchase cheese and other dairy products for food banks and nutrition programs.

Sanders and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said additional measures are needed to bring price stability to the dairy industry and to help preserve family farms.

"Dairy farmers are in desperate need. We must help them as soon as possible," said Sanders.

Rep. Welch, co-chairman of the Congressional Dairy Farmers Caucus, said the measure will provide "much-needed temporary support to these hardworking, dedicated members of our community."

The average price farmers received for their milk fell this year to $11.30 per hundredweight, down from $19.30 in July 2008. It costs farmers at least $18 per hundredweight to produce milk. As prices plunged, family dairy farms in Vermont and around the country went out of business.

Dairy farmers got a temporary boost from the Agriculture Department last July 31 when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack - after meeting with the senators from Vermont and other dairy states - approved a three-month price hike that was expected to increase farmers' revenue nationwide by $243 million.

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