SOMERVILLE, Mass. -- More than 13,200 Americans signed on to Farm Aid's petition to the USDA this month, which called on Secretary Tom Vilsack to take immediate action to stop the loss of dairy farmers due to low milk prices.



According to Farm Aid and its supporters, the dairy crisis is threatening the health of local and regional economies and promising increased reliance on imports and factory farms for dairy products. Food and Water Watch rallied its members to sign Farm Aid's petition and a push by Food Democracy Now! resulted in an additional 9,000 faxes to the USDA.



"People in all corners of our country have made it clear through this campaign that they want independent family dairy farms to supply their milk and to support healthy local and regional economies," said Carolyn Mugar, executive director of Farm Aid. "But there is still much to be done to safeguard our milk supply so that we don't end up relying on imports and factory farms for something as important as our source of fresh milk."



The drastic drop in milk prices paid to farmers over the past year has led to an unprecedented crisis for dairy farmers who, on average, are being paid less than half the cost of production. Low prices and high production costs threaten to push nearly one-third of U.S. dairy farmers off their land over the next couple of months, strengthening corporate control of the dairy industry and severely impacting the health of local and regional economies nationwide.



Farm Aid delivered a petition to Secretary Vilsack during a meeting last week urging him to use his authority to set a floor price for milk that reflects the cost of production, protecting the livelihoods of dairy farmers and consumer access to fresh, local dairy products.



The Secretary demonstrated keen awareness of the distress among dairy farmers and the impact of low prices, and pledged to continue to work to explore options in support of dairy farmers, including improving farmers' access to working capital. Vilsack also discussed steps taken by USDA in recent months to support dairy farmers, including providing Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) payments, donating surplus products to school feeding and emergency feeding programs, and activating the Dairy Export Incentive Program.



"Available and affordable credit is essential for farmers. Farm Aid applauds the recent work of the USDA to ensure that farmers have access to credit, but right now dairy farmers need more than credit -- they need a fair price for milk, based on the cost of production," said Mugar. "We will continue to push for immediate, effective solutions that succeed in keeping dairy farmers on their land."



"This is a real emergency and dairy farmers need real leadership from Washington," said New York dairy farmer Bryan Gotham. "We're looking for someone to step up and help. In the meantime, dairy farmers are financially bleeding to death."



Farm Aid's mission is to build a vibrant, family farm-centered system of agriculture in America. Farm Aid artists and board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews host an annual concert to raise funds to support Farm Aid's work with family farmers and to inspire people to choose family-farmed food. Since 1985, Farm Aid has raised more than $33 million to support programs that help farmers thrive, expand the reach of the Good Food Movement, take action to change the dominant system of industrial agriculture and promote food from family farms.



SOURCE Farm Aid via PR Newswire.