A rescue plan for farmers seeks to reduce an over-supply of food by feeding the poor and supplementing school lunches.
Missouri Agriculture Director Jon Hagler says a day doesn’t go by that he doesn’t hear from a farmer struggling to survive, such as a call he got from a dairy farmer in northwest Missouri.
"In three generations of dairy farming she has never faced it as rough as she’s facing it right now," Hagler tells the Missourinet. "(She) is at the point where she is going to have to make a decision whether to close the operation for good if it doesn’t break soon."
Hagler says he isn’t alone. During a National Association of State Departments of Agriculture conference in Montgomery, Alabama, Hagler’s fellow directors shared similar stories. From those discussions rose "Meat the Need", a play on words designed to rid the meat market of a glut of pork and poultry as well as dairy products.
All of agriculture has been hurt by the economic downturn. The dairy industry and pork has been under considerable strain, with farmers complaining of high input costs, but low prices. Poultry has also suffered under the downturn. Hagler says agriculture directors throughout the country worry they will lose farms if something isn’t done.
"Meat the Need" proposes that the federal government shift economic stimulus money to buy milk, cheese and other dairy products in up to three installments of 75 million pounds over a 120-day period. Purchases of surplus dairy products would end if the price of milk rises to $16 per hundredweight, the break-even point. The proposal requests the federal government buy 100 million pounds of pork in three installments as well, until the price rises to 49 cents per pound. The plan calls for a one-time purchase of 100 million pounds of turkey.
The proposal suggests the United States Department of Agriculture use the current Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by requiring SNAP recipients to spend the new allocations only on meat and dairy products available locally, purchased with special electronic benefit transfer cards dedicated to the "Meat the Need" program.
Beef producers in Missouri are under pressure as well. Though the proposal doesn’t include beef, it would help beef production, according to Hagler, by removing excess pork and poultry products. Hagler argues that a surplus in pork and poultry has suppressed grocery store prices for those meats, leading consumers away from beef, aggravating the cost-squeeze for beef producers.
The excess dairy, pork and poultry purchased by the government would be distributed it to food banks, school lunch programs and foreign military food assistance programs, under the proposal.
"We could get rid of it in such a way so that those extra products go directly to low-income and needy families and I think that’s really an important component," Hagler says.
Hagler believes the proposal will be well-receive in Washington, D.C. He says removing the glut of dairy, pork and poultry would raise the price for farmers and help farm families make it through this tough time.