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Bus trip to Albany: Where it took us and where to go from here

In August Wisconsin Farmers Union, along with 26 Dairy Together advocates, took a bus to New York for a dairy summit hosted by AgriMark co-op. The summit highlighted various policy proposals to stabilize prices for dairy farmers, most of them containing some mechanism to balance supply with profitable demand.

The bus trip generated a lot of media attention, and was featured on the front page of three Wisconsin newspapers in one week. But what progress have we made since then, and where do we go from here?

One of the greatest successes of the bus trip was the opportunity to connect with like-minded farmers and farm organizations that are pushing for solutions to the dairy crisis. We built our Dairy Together network and returned to Wisconsin stronger than when we left.

Farm Aid, whose generous support funded our bus trip, was among the groups we connected with during the meeting. In September, they invited us to attend their annual benefit concert in Hartford, Connecticut to showcase our work. Sarah Lloyd, Director of Special Projects, spoke on a panel during the pre-concert gathering titled “On the Road to Resilience: Moving from Individual Crisis to Collective Power.” National Farmers Union vice president, Patty Edelburg spoke during a film screening of a new documentary called Forgotten Farms.

At the Farm Aid concert, Sarah connected with Nathaniel Rateliff, lead singer of Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, who invited us to table for Dairy Together at their concert in Madison. We raised money to support our work and spread the Dairy Together message to consumers who were unaware of the dairy crisis happening throughout rural America. Nathaniel even gave a Dairy Together shout out from the stage!

In September we had the opportunity to advocate for dairy supply management to our members of congress at the annual National Farmers Union fly-in to Washington D.C. We heard from several members of congress that the dialogue on supply management is shifting, and the need for a stable dairy economy is growing more apparent as dairy farmers struggle through yet another year of prices below the cost of production.

Senator Sanders’ office and the State of Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets has convened a task force to review the proposals that were presented at the AgriMark meeting and select three for further review. The Holstein Plan, which was considered in the lead-up to the 2014 Farm Bill and presented at the summit by WFU’s Kara O’Connor, is among them. Kara is an active member on the task force and is weighing in on their policy recommendations.

The next big step is conducting an economic analysis that compares a few supply management proposals and demonstrates what dairy prices would have been from 2014 until now if a policy had been in place. We are in the process of commissioning such a study and look forward to sharing more details soon.

That brings us to October, where we are kicking off the Fall season with World Dairy Expo. We have a Dairy Together booth where we will share information and talk with dairy farmers from across the country and around the world about our effort to create a viable dairy economy for family farmers.

The bus trip to New York kick-started a flurry of activity for Dairy Together, and has resulted in tremendous networking, educational, and advocacy opportunities. We continue to hold our bi-weekly conference calls with a core group of members to keep the conversation going and build on that momentum. Onward!

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