Thanks to Chris Zurcher, I found this compelling plea from a Connecticut dairy farmer in yesterday's Courant. Robin A. Chesmer, who runs a dairy farm in Lebanon, wrote:
Last year alone, Connecticut lost 10 percent of its dairy farms, and we are in danger of losing our state's remaining 100,000 dairy acres to nonagricultural use.
Skyrocketing costs of production, including transportation, fuel, electricity and feed, coupled with a decline in milk prices (set by the United States Department of Agriculture), are placing Connecticut dairy farmers in a financial crisis. ...
The issue really is all about the ability to provide a continuous supply of farm-fresh, locally produced food. Connecticut residents desire a local source of milk and other farm products that haven't traveled hundreds of miles. A trip to a supermarket will demonstrate the increased emphasis that is placed on local food products as a result of consumer demand. Connecticut dairy farms provide that local source of food.
Dairy farms contribute significant benefits to our state and communities. These farms provide a source of fresh food that is produced right here in Connecticut and doesn't have to travel long distances to get to the kitchen table. Connecticut dairy farms generate $300 million in annual economic activity, employing more than 1,000 individuals on and off the farm. Dairy farms represent approximately 60 percent of all Connecticut farmland and have a significant impact on our quality of life. Finally, our viable dairy farms provide wildlife habitats, water recharge areas, green buffers, fresh air and scenic vistas.
Specifically, he wants the Connecticut legislature to help:
If Connecticut dairy farms are expected to survive, they must be able to cover their costs of production when the federal pricing system fails to provide an adequate return. The General Assembly is considering An Act Concerning Assistance for Dairy Farmers that would achieve this goal by paying farmers from a state fund when the cost of production exceeds the return on federally set milk prices.
His argument boils down to this: The government keeps milk prices artificially low to benefit consumers; that puts local dairy farmers at a competitive disadvantage with dairy farmers from farther elsewhere. So if we want local milk and if we want farms instead of subdivisions or corporate headquarters, the state needs to subsidize dairy farmers.
I'm not an economist and I'm not familiar enough with the bill Chesmer is referring to. But at the very least, the argument seems to be worth considering.