State: Relief may be coming soon for dairy farmers

  • Yeaton Farm in Epsom is one of the many struggling dairies in New Hampshire. Just this year, 19 of the state's 120 dairy farms have closed due to continued low milk prices, now compounded by this summer's drought. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

  • Farmer Tom Marston of Pittsfield (left) talks Monday with Republican Rep. Bob Haefner, chairman of the Milk Producers Emergency Relief Fund Board. Jim Cole / ap

Monitor staff
Monday, October 03, 2016

If they’ve managed to survive the summer drought and an extended period of low milk prices, New Hampshire dairy farmers may soon get relief.

The Milk Producers Emergency Relief Fund Board met Monday, a few weeks after Gov. Maggie Hassan announced that she allocated $2 million per year to the fund in the proposed 2018-19 state budget.

The board plans to present its recommended amount – which could align with the governor’s proposal – by next week. In addition, it plans to help create a task force of legislators to hold a hearing on the proposal.

The board’s goal is to get the money to farmers by Dec. 7, the time that the Legislature is sworn in.

The relief fund was set up by the Legislature in 2007, during the last severe milk crisis, and it went into effect in 2008.

Agriculture Commissioner Lorraine Merrill said in a recent interview that the state disbursed about $2 million among 130 or 140 dairy farmers at that time. No money has been allocated to the fund since.

Milk prices started declining in spring 2014, when the USDA listed 100 pounds of milk selling for almost $27. The lowest point was this past June, when prices fell to just $14.80 per hundredweight, though prices have started to rebound slightly.

USDA data showed the price at $17.10 for August.

Hassan made her announcement about the new money for the relief fund during a Sept. 14 visit to Great Bay Farm in Greenland. It’s one of the 111 dairies left in the state; 19 – or 16 percent of the state’s dairies – have closed since January.

In addition to the milk prices, this year’s drought has led to crop losses and production decline and put a strain on dairy farmers. Nine counties have received a federal drought disaster declaration from the U.S. secretary of agriculture, and farmers are eligible to apply for emergency relief loans from the U.S. Farm Service Agency.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story. Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, ereed@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)