Dairy farmers prepare to thank Speaker Boehner
By SHERRY BUNTING
Special for Farmshine
LANCASTER, Pa. -- When the new 5-year Farm Bill was finally passed by both houses and signed into law in February, the Dairy Title was a tiny portion, but it encompassed four years of intense national debate about the future of the dairy industry. At stake: Future generations on family farms of all sizes.
“As dairy farmers, we are thankful that Speaker of the House John Boehner saw the Dairy Security Act for what it was,” says Ohio dairyman Alan Kozak of Clover Patch Dairy near Millersburg. He also serves as the current vice-chairman of the Dairy Policy Action Coalition (DPAC) and was part of the original group of dairy producers from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Southeast, who came together in 2009 and 2010 to form a grassroots coalition.
“It was refreshing that Speaker Boehner did the right thing for the right reasons,” Kozak added. “He saw that the proposed supply management program was something the dairy grassroots didn’t want, and that it would not have been good for the dairy industry.”
Speaker Boehner will be in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, June 13. Retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey, the founder of DPAC, says this event will be “the one chance we have to thank John Boehner for what he has done.”
Morrissey is asking every dairy farmer, and every agribusiness serving dairy farmers, to be part of this effort with a one-time contribution of $1.00 per milk cow (or $1000 per agribusiness) to the “Boehner for Speaker” fund and to consider attending the June 13 event at the home of former Congressman Robert Walker in Lancaster.
“This is a call to action,” said Morrissey. “We want to personally thank the Speaker for his efforts on behalf of the dairy farmers of the United States and present to him a package full of checks sent in by dairy farmers and agribusinesses.”
Checks are being received between now and June 10. They should be made out to “Boehner for Speaker” and sent to: “Friends of Joe Pitts” at P.O. Box 775, Unionville, PA 19375.
Morrissey notes that Congressman Joe Pitts, representing portions of Lancaster, Berks and Lebanon counties in Pennsylvania, “understood what was at stake in the Farm Bill because farming here is both a way of life and a business.
“Both Pitts and Boehner realize the dairy farmer’s livelihood -- and his dignity and way of life -- depend on the financial health of the dairy farm being at a satisfactory level, where the youth can continue in dairy,” Morrissey observes. “They also understand that dairy farms are the salvation of local economies throughout Pennsylvania and the U.S. The past four years have been a battle for what is right.”
Nelson Troutman of Oakenbound Holsteins, Richland, Pennsylvania, understands that 4-year battle quite well, having been involved also in the early founding of the grassroots coalition, DPAC.
“People who have not followed the story or followed the Farm Bill over the past four years don’t realize the impact that this man (Speaker Boehner) has had on the outcome. It’s not that someone else could not have done it; it’s the fact that no one else did. He stood up against the Senate, and he stood up to a lot of pressure on behalf of the American dairy farmer,” said Troutman.
“I look forward to shaking his hand and to contributing in this effort to thank him. Had he not stood up under that pressure, had we still had the old price support program or the supply management program replacing it, we would not be able to afford to transition our farms to the next generation,” Troutman added. “How can you tell a young person it is going to get better in the dairy business when the government has price supports and then wants to control your future with supply management?”
After four years of national discussion, Troutman now sees more aggressive marketing happening today in the dairy business. Processors and cooperatives are making more products to specifications that customers want for export. “There is a more market-oriented future,” he observes. “And more optimism today because of it.”
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, farmer Rob Barley agrees. “As far as the outcome of the Farm Bill, the bottom line is that we as dairy farmers had ideas of what we wanted to see happen in dairy pricing. But when it became clear that wasn’t going to happen and that the focus was adding a new layer through the Dairy Security Act and its supply management program, dairy farmers switched gears to defend the future of agriculture.”
Barley and his brother and cousin operate Star Rock Farms near Conestoga, Pa. He said the Dairy Security Act may have been beneficial for a farm of their size in the short-term. “But for the future opportunities of our future generations, it was not at all positive,” said Barley, who serves as the current co-chairman of DPAC and was part of the original charter board of producers that formed the grassroots coalition.
“At that point, we began looking for allies, and it was our friends in Ohio who took those concerns to their representative John Boehner,” said Barley. “It soon became obvious he thought the same as we did about free enterprise for the dairy industry. We found a kindred spirit, and he never wavered from that. When someone shows steadfast support like this and adopts policies that align with what dairy farmers believe, then we have a great opportunity here to contribute to help keep someone like that in leadership.”
For Ohio dairyman Alan Kozak, showing thanks to the Speaker with a contribution simply comes down to acknowledging that, “John Boehner did not cave in to the special interests. He could have done nothing. He could have stood to the side and blamed the outcome on someone else,” Kozak explains. “If he would have done nothing, no one would have found fault with that; but instead Speaker Boehner took a risk. He used his political clout on behalf of dairy farmers, which shows what kind of man he is.”
It really comes down to supporting someone who made “the right choices,” Kozak adds. “Thanking him with a contribution to this fund is like saying: ‘We like the way you think. We like how you took action when maybe you didn’t have to. And we would like to do our part to help keep a man like you in leadership.”
While Kozak, too, was focused initially on market transparency as one of the goals for the Farm Bill, he says “the final outcome was the best given the choices we had. It is better than what we had before and the best of the choices we were being given. Some of the best parts of the new Dairy Title in the new Farm Bill are what we didn’t get -- what John Boehner helped us prevent.”
He also notes that while the grassroots dairy farmers became involved in what turned out to be “mostly a defensive battle, we still have things we want to do on price discovery and market transparency,” said Kozak. “We have found in Boehner someone who understands dairy, and understands that adding another government layer in the form of supply management was not what was best for everyone -- from producers to consumers.”
Bernie Morrissey puts it bluntly: “If we can retain the majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives in the next election, then the chance of keeping John Boehner as Speaker of the House is good because the Speaker is chosen by the majority of his peers. When dairy farmers and agribusinesses who serve the dairy farmers contribute to this fund by June 10, they are, in effect, thanking the Speaker for standing up for the farmers.”
Morrissey also notes that having a House Speaker who understands dairy is a plus for the future, compared with starting all over trying to educate new leadership and a new majority about the dairy farmers’ business and what is on their minds and hearts for the next generation to take hold, transition the farms, and continue their passion for dairy farming.
“I am challenging every dairy farmer to give a minimum of $1.00 per milk cow as a one-time donation, and for every agribusiness to donate $1000,” said Morrissey. Those checks will be collected and then presented to Speaker John Boehner when he comes to Lancaster on June 13.
“We want to be able to thank him publicly for standing up for America’s dairy farmers by presenting him with a package of full of checks from many states, and having dairy farmers and agribusiness representatives at the event to make this presentation together,” he said. “This has been a grassroots group effort for over four years, and on June 13, the presentation will also be a grassroots group effort from the dairy farmers.”
“This chance to thank the Speaker is an important decision and an opportunity to solidify the relationship at the grassroots level,” Morrissey adds.
He said checks should be made payable to “Boehner for Speaker” and mailed to the Friends of Joe Pitts, P.O. Box 775, Unionville, PA 19375. For questions about contributing and to attend the June 13 event in Lancaster, Pa., contact Bernie Morrissey at 717-951-1774.