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USDA to Dairy Farmers: Relief Checks Are in the Mail!
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 12/18/2009

The $350 million dairy relief funds that were approved by Congress this fall are finally coming home for Christmas. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that $290 million of that money is going directly to eligible dairy farmers as part of the agriculture appropriations bill signed into law on October 21. The remaining balance will be used for federal cheese and dairy product purchases for food banks and other nutrition and feeding programs.

U.S. Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold say the announcement couldn't have come at a better time for Wisconsin farmers, most of which had a very challenging year in 2009.

"The Dairy Economic Loss Assistance Payment Program will provide one-time payments to assist eligible dairy producers who have experienced low milk prices and high production costs this year," Kohl said in a statement on Thursday. "Payments will be calculated based on twice an eligible producer's total pounds of production commercially marketed during the months of February 2009 through July 2009, up to a production maximum of six million pounds per dairy operation. USDA will begin processing payments to eligible dairy producers as early as December 17.

Feingold said the program is targeted toward small and medium dairy farmers. It is similar to the Milk Income Loss Contract program that sends one of every five dollars paid nationally to Wisconsin farms.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Congressman Dave Obey, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said an average dairy farmer in Wisconsin with about 85 cows could be getting $5,000 or more as part of this program. That's in addition to the $175 million state producers already received this year under the MILC program, which averages about $13,000 per farmer.

"By the end of this year, total assistance to Wisconsin farmers could exceed $250 million," Obey said. "Everyone understands that this does not make these farmers whole for the losses they have taken because of the historically low prices this year. But it might be the difference between getting by or going out of business."

Also praising the news was Rep. Steve Kagen of Appleton, who is the only Wisconsin member of the House Agriculture Committee. He says dairy producers who have production records at the USDA Farm Service Agency county office do not need to apply for the program because they already participated in another FSA dairy program. FSA will use existing production records for February through July 2009 to calculate and issue their payments.

The funds were originally approved through the 2010 Agriculture Appropriations Bill. But the exact details of how the money would be distributed wasn't figured out until recently when the USDA decided to establish the DELAP program.

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