Maine legislature considers aid for state dairy farmers

Emergency funds proposed to stave off inflated costs
Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 11:59 AM EDT
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WHITEFIELD, Maine (WMTW) - A bill that got its first public hearing before the Maine State Legislature on Monday proposes a multi-million-dollar hand-up to dairy farmers.

The bill before the Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry committee would allocate $5.5 million in emergency relief from inflation.

Sheepscot Valley Farm, in Whitfield, is one of 154 dairy farms left in Maine and would expect to benefit from the bill if it were to become law.

The farm currently milks 65 cows and produces more than a million pounds of milk every year.

”365 days a year cows need to get milked. It’s a commitment like no other,” Annie Watson, who co-owns the farm with her husband, told WMTW Maine’s Total Coverage during a visit on Monday.

She’s also president of the Maine Dairy Industry Association and testified in support of the bill.

Though milk prices have stabilized after falling hard during pandemic closures of schools and restaurants, Watson says, the higher costs of fuel, feed, fertilizer, and labor make it hard, if not impossible, to break even.

”We’ve had a lot of farms on the brink of making a major decision about their livelihoods, deciding whether to stay in our get out business,” she said.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Pluecker, Independent, from Warren, would grant farmers $1 for every hundred pounds of milk produced last year.

Watson estimates she would receive between $10,000 and $15,000.

”Unpaid bills for seed, for repairs,” she said.

Pluecker told WMTW Maine’s Total Coverage the aid is focused on dairy farms, among all seven thousand Maine farms, because 25% of Maine dairy farms went out of business in the past two years.

Watson said, “It’s been especially difficult this past year with these inflationary costs, and i think it feels different this time because we’re kind of at this tipping point, where if we lose a certain number of farms in our state, we risk losing a major part of our infrastructure.”