The political kicker in this mess is that the farm bill also provides money for federal food stamps and nutritional assistance programs — key targets for budget-cutting congressional conservatives. House Republicans refused to go along with the modest entitlement cuts approved in the Senate bill, and so the whole thing got stalled.
Tom Monteith, a 73-year-old dairy farmer just across the Massachusetts border in Granville, doubts the federal dairy price-insurance plan will help much because it wouldn't actually cover the farmer's costs for feed and energy. He says the system is rigged because base milk prices are set by those huge western producers selling manufacturing milk and by commodities exchange traders.
"It's a completely unfair system of doing things," Monteith insists.
Hastings, the Suffield farmer, says her family farm needs to get a minimum of $20 for every 100 pounds of milk produced just to cover expenses. "At one point [this year], it was down to $16 per hundred weight, way less than it cost to produce," she says.
Kardashian advocates small, cooperative efforts among farmers and believes there should be recognition that there are differences in the quality of milk and that farmers should get paid more for higher-quality products.
Right now, most consumers think all milk is alike. "The milk trucks go from farm to farm and fill up their tanks, then they drive to the plant and unload the milk into a bigger tank. Good milk, 'shit milk,' it all gets mixed together and pasteurized — or ultra-pasteurized — and bottled. That means there's little incentive, besides the paltry quality bonuses and premium awards, to make an excellent product," Kardashian writes.
Kasacek says some cooperatives are working in Connecticut, but he doesn't know if that's a viable trend in this state. Other farmers are trying to circumvent the system by becoming their own processors and bottlers.
That's the goal of the Hastings family: bottling and selling their locally produced milk to consumers ready to spend money for higher quality.
"I think they are willing to pay a little more to get something local, at least some people are," says Susan Hastings. The problem, she admits, is that "It's a long, slow road to build that up."
Whether small farmers like Hastings will have enough time to reach their goal is anybody's guess.