CBSN

Farmers Not Crying Over Spilt Milk

dairy farmers milk milk prices
AP
Disgusted by what they say are the lowest prices in a quarter century, CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports American dairy farmers are deliberately dumping good milk and money down the drain.

"We had to do something even if it's wrong," said Indiana farmer Stephen Andert.

Farmers in 11 dairy-producing states (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, North Dakota, Louisiana, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and California) disposed of tens of thousands of gallons of milk in an Independence Day protest they say is a plea for help as they fight to stay afloat.

"There’s no way farmers can survive at these prices. No one else could and farmers can't either,"said Wisconsin dairy farmer Paul Olson.

For the last 60 years, the federal government has set a minimum price for milk. The supports ensured dairy farmers would make at least enough to keep them in business...but farmers now complain that minimum is way too low.

In the meantime, milk in the store has jumped to as high as $3.50 a gallon in some places. But farmers say they are getting historically low prices. For example, back in 1981 farmers got on average about a $1.15 a gallon, and milk sold for $1.87. These days consumers pay, on average, $2.87 but farmers only get about 83 cents a gallon. The spread is so wide, two U.S. senators have called for a federal investigation.

"A smaller and smaller proportion of what consumers spend for dairy products gets down to the farmers and that will continue," warned Peter Vitteliano of the National Milk Producers Federation.

To a certain extent, farmers are victims of their own efficiency. Less than half of the dairy farms that were operating in 1980 are still in business, but milk supplies haven't dried up. There's more milk on the market than ever before, which leads to low prices, at least for farmers.

"It's not something we want to do," said Wisconsin dairyman Don Moos, who helped organize the strike. "It takes a lot of time and a lot of money to produce milk. The last thing we want to do is run it down the drain. But we want to get paid a reasonable price."

Not all protesting farmers dumped their milk.

About two dozen farmers in the La Crosse, Wis. area donated more than 62,000 pounds of milk to a local cooperative creamery, which will process the milk into cheese and donate it to area food pantries, farmer John Hemmersbach said.

He said many farmers feel the same way about the government and milk prices as he does.

"All of them have let us fail at an alarming rate," Hemmersbach said. "I don't trust my government no more."

While questions continue about just who is making money on milk, dairymen are asking Congress not only to extend price supports, but to raise them. But many wonder who among them will be in business long enough to benefit.