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2009: A Year of Dairy Crisis, Ag Legislation

By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade | Lancaster Farming

As 2009 closes, it will go down in the history books as one of challenges. Dairy prices, animal welfare and the environment were topics of discussions that went from the farm community into mainstream America.

Dairy prices began a slide at the end of 2008 and continued through most of the year. Dairy producers rallied their statehouses and Washington for a fix to the system. Many complained of the roller coaster milk prices have been on from the extreme highs and lows. In New England and New York, a set of dairy farmers has sued a dairy processor and cooperative, believing the organizations have participated in price fixing.

Legislators at all levels have reviewed the dairy price situation. Several investigations have been started to decide if there are antitrust violations in the milk processing business.

Other dairy farmers in the region decided to make the decision to sell out their dairy or participate in the CWT (Cooperatives Working Together) program to exit the dairy industry.

Strengthened by their success in California, the Humane Society of United States (HSUS) approached several other states regarding animal housing. The agriculture community of Ohio pushed for a different approach to the issue. A referendum called Issue 2 focused on establishing a board for reviewing agricultural practices. The referendum passed and Ohio is in the process of establishing the board.

Agriculture’s role in the environment was also debated this year. Climate change, water quality, greenhouse gases and renewable energy all contain agriculture components that have been put under the spotlight. Agriculture organizations lobbied for farming to be viewed as a benefit in advancing environmental policies.

Here are some news highlights from the year, listed under the month they were reported in Lancaster Farming:

January

The Pennsylvania Farm Show hosted a successful event as farmers competed to see who would win a blue ribbon.

Ag Census numbers indicated farms are shifting in size to larger and smaller. Number of medium-sized farms is on the decline.

USDA issued the final COOL (country of origin) rule, receiving mixed reviews from ag organizations and trading partners.

Keith Eckel of Pennsylvania earned the American Farm Bureau Federation Distinguished Service Award at the AFBF annual meeting.

Matt Meals of Pennsylvania was selected as the chair of the Young Farmer and Rancher committee for AFBF.

Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack was confirmed as the next USDA secretary.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell announced that the state has reached the trigger point to require each gallon of diesel contain biodiesel. The requirement will begin in 2010.

Several new members from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic were appointed to the U.S. House Agriculture committee including, from Pennsylvania, Kathleen Dahlkemper and Glenn Thompson; from New York, Eric Massa; and from Maryland, Frank Katovil. Tim Holden of Pennsylvania returned to the committee.

February

Lucinda Williams, a dairy producer from Massachusetts, was elected chair of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell released his 2009 agriculture budget. Several ag programs, including agricultural promotion, hardwood promotion, farm safety and transition to organic farming were eliminated.

Red Knob Farm dispersed their dairy herd, one of many dairy farms considering dispersal in the economic downturn of the dairy industry.

Douglas Fisher was nominated as New Jersey ag secretary.

Several corn producers from the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Southeast won the National Corn Grower Association Five-Acre Corn Club contest.

Vintage Sales Stables was devastated by a fire. The Frame family, operators of the sales stables, committed to rebuilding.

Penn State Beef Quiz Bowl won the national contest at the National Cattleman’s Beef Association meeting.

Smithfield Foods announced the closure of six plants, including one in Virginia.

Soybean champion grower Kip Cullers visited Harrisburg to talk with local growers about his thoughts on corn and soybean production.

New Jersey dairyman William Sytsema of Wantage, N.J. was selected as a National Outstanding Young Farmer of the Year.

Rendell announced the creation of a Food Safety Council, to be chaired by ag and health secretaries.

Tyson Foods withdrew its filing to use the Grange name in a copyrighted label, ending a trademark challenge by the National Grange.

March

Because of low milk prices, USDA announced it would be issuing the first round of Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) payments.

EPA announced that farm dust is open to regulations.

Cheryl Cook, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture deputy secretary, was tapped to serve as the deputy under secretary for USDA-Rural Development in the Obama administration.

Dr. Michael Pierdon of Elizabethtown was selected as the 2009 Young Swine Veterinarian of the Year by the American Association of Swine Veterinarians.

Penn State announced the selection of Dr. Bruce McPheron as the new dean for the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Dairy price slide continued, dairy economists predicted that prices will rebound by the end of the year.

Pennsylvania FFA members gathered in Harrisburg for their State Legislative Leadership Conference.

Newly named Pennsylvania State Grange ambassadors were Jennifer Nauss and Michael Snyder.

Penn State ag students host “Meat-In” Day to educate students on the values of meat.

April

A tornado touched down in Lancaster County impacting a number of farms. An estimated $3 million in damages were attributed to the storm.

The Pennsylvania Senate Ag Committee hosted a hearing on the governor’s proposed budget and its impact on the industry.

The Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board announced that its over-order premium will not include milk produced and processed in Pennsylvania but sold in New Jersey.

Annamarie and Herb Schick were recognized at a banquet for their 40 years of service to the Pennsylvania Pork Producers Council (PPPC).

A computer glitch slowed MILC payments to some farmers. The problems were mainly experience by family corporations and partnerships.

Farmers and caterers gathered in Washington in April to lobby against several proposed food safety bills.

A Congressional Budget Office report said corn ethanol played a small role in last year’s high food prices. Most of the increase came from high energy prices (such as oil).

May

Sens. Bob Casey and Arlen Specter introduced dairy legislation to help resolve the dairy price crisis.

Harrisburg was selected as one of several cities to host a listening session on National Animal Identification System (NAIS).

Gov. Ed Rendell petitioned the state’s Commonwealth Court to collect premiums from New Jersey dairy processors.
President Barack Obama signed an executive order dedicated to the clean-up of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The order put the federal government at the head of the cleanup effort.

Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) announced its largest herd retirement to date, sending nearly 103,000 cows to slaughter.

As debate continued on the Pennsylvania budget, the Mount Nebo Grange Fair announced that it was canceling.

June

In reaction to the cuts at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Market Development announced it would be eliminating many of its livestock grading and reporting services.

In response to pressure to address animal welfare issues, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland announced a ballot initiative to create an animal welfare board.

July

Bill Wehry was appointed as the state executive director for the Pennsylvania office of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

Penn State challenged the “non-public” status Gov. Rendell issued regarding the university and several other state universities, appealing the ruling to the U.S Department of Education. The non-public status would have made the university ineligible for federal stimulus funds.

Former Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff received the Distinguished Leadership Award from Holstein Association USA at its national convention.

Jersey breeders gathered in New York State for their annual national meeting and sale.

Vermont Bernie Sanders called for a dairy processor probe to determine if dairy processors are violating antitrust laws.

In its quarterly market basket survey, the American Farm Bureau Federation announced that national food prices are trending down.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Energy Secretary Steve Chu embarked on a “Rural America Tour” to hear what issues are important to the countryside. Several stops were made in New England and the Mid-Atlantic region.

August

A tornado struck Northeastern Pennsylvania causing damage on several farms.

Tragedy struck the Schuylkill County farm community as Robert “Bobby” Dunn was killed in a crash on his way home from the fair to the farm for afternoon chores.

Ag Progress Days dominated the month as agribusiness and farmers attended the Rock Springs site to learn about the latest in agriculture.

Penn State announced that western bean cutworm had been found in Pennsylvania, which could threaten the state’s corn growers.

Collingswood Farmers Market in New Jersey and Williamsburg Farmers Market in Virginia were selected as America’s favorite farmers market in the small and large market divisions, respectively.

Several dairy meetings were hosted as farmers let their frustration be known regarding the milk crisis.

September

Dennis Wolff announced he was stepping down as the Pennsylvania secretary of agriculture. Russell Redding was announced as acting secretary.

Bill Teets, known as “Mr. New Jersey Holstein,” died.

Speculation continued about the possible sale of Pilgrim’s Pride to JBS, a Brazilian meatpacking firm.

Norman Borlaug, known as the father of the “green revolution” for his work in high yield crop varieties, died.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) published rules to permit select state-inspected establishments for interstate shipments of meat and poultry products.

The All-American Dairy Show presented George Cashell the Obie Snider Award and Harry Thompson and Kathy Walton the Image Award.

An Arethusa Farm dairy sale at the Lebanon County Fairgrounds grossed nearly $1 million on 200 head of cattle.

Old Mill E Snickerdoodle, owned by the Bassler family of Virginia, topped the All-American Dairy Show in both the youth and open shows.

October

Jess Darlington was selected for the Pennsylvania Livestock Association Hall of Fame.

An agreement was reached in the congress to offer $350 million to dairy farmers — $290 million for direct assistance.

Rich Norz of Hillsborough, N.J. was selected as the New Jersey Outstanding Young Farmer.

Dairy farmer protests continued in Europe in reaction to low milk prices.

The 53rd Keystone International Livestock Exposition saw national level competition in the beef, swine, sheep and horse rings.

Northeastern dairy farmers filed lawsuits against Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), Dean Foods, Dairy Marketing Service (DMS) and HP Hood for dominating the dairy market.

Lawmakers sent a letter to USDA asking for assistance for pork producers struggling with profitability because of low hog prices.

Pennsylvania was declared plum pox virus-free this month, concluding a decade-long battle to eliminate the fruit disease from the state.

November

Ohioans voted for a referendum that would set up a livestock standards board. The board is charged with establishing animal welfare standards.

The Penn State Poinsettia Trials were canceled for 2009 because of budget cuts, the departure of several key extension employees and a hiring freeze.

The Northeast Equipment Dealers Association (NEDA) alerted its members to a possible equipment theft ring after a series of thefts at dealers in Pennsylvania and surrounding states.

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) announced that the cost of a classic Thanksgiving dinner declined 4 percent this year.

EPA announced at a series of meetings its plans to develop stricter Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) limits in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

December

U.S. Justice Department intentions to investigate Monsanto for antitrust issues enter the spotlight.

Manheim Central High School’s agriculture program was selected as one of six programs to receive the Outstanding Middle/Secondary Program Award at the National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE) meeting.

Pennsylvania 4-H Poultry Judging team topped the judging contest at the National 4-H Poultry and Egg Conference.
The Pennsylvania Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee hosted a hearing regarding the state’s dairy price situation and to decide what actions it could take.

The Pennsylvania Farm Show announced that its gilt show and sale will take place a week earlier to minimize risk from the H1N1 flu.

Dairy farmers from New York and Maryland traveled to Washington, D.C. to visit their elected officials regarding the state of the dairy industry.

Russell Redding was confirmed as the 24th Pennsylvania secretary of agriculture.

USDA announced an agreement had been reached with the nation’s dairy industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020.

Vermont’s attorney general announced he is reviewing information to see if his office will take action on farmer claims of a dairy monopoly.

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