Hard times for dairy farmers have led a West Winfield couple to take matters into their own hands, hoping others follow their lead to do something about low milk prices.
On Sunday — the Fourth of July — Dave and Robin Fitch plan to dump the milk they've produced in protest of milk prices, which have been below the cost of production, the couple said. They milk a mixed lot of 150 cows, Dave Fitch said.
In May, the couple received $15.91 for a hundred pounds of milk, before deductions of several dollars from the processor.
For more than a year, prices have been at least several dollars below the cost of production. That number has been estimated at between $15 and $18 a hundredweight, depending on a number of factors, dairy officials have said. This does not include mortgage payments, a return on investment and other normal costs associated with a business.
That number is more than $20 a hundredweight, Delaware County Cornell Cooperative Educator Mariane Kiraly said.
Just as when the country declared its independence, "the people got fed up and finally made a statement," Dave Fitch said. "That is what farmers need to do. Enough is enough."
He said he was hopeful that the effort would help move a bill in the Senate, which would better-link milk prices to the cost of production and manage supply.
On Sunday, the couple are asking all people who want to be a part of the action to dump their milk legally, he said. It can't be donated because it is not pasteurized, he said. Instead it will go into a manure spreader or storage.
"We have to get national attention" for the cause, he said.
Robin Fitch said she is expecting the farm will lose about $2,000 when the milk is dumped. She said she's notified the truckers who regularly pick up her milk of their intentions.
A temporary solution would be a floor price of $18 a hundredweight for the milk, she said. It is important not only for farms but also to protect consumers from milk products that might otherwise have to be imported.
"This is the only thing we have in our power to do," she said. "This is the only tool we had in our tool box."
The couple have been notifying farmers nationwide through trade publications and other media. The response has been good, with representation in nearly all states, she said.
Most farmers don't want to give their names for fear of repercussions from the industry, she said.
There are about 15 farmers in Herkimer and Oneida counties who are joining in support. The one farm she did provide a number for did not return a couple of phone calls.
Bloomville dairy farmer Barbara Hanselman said her farm won't be participating.
"It's important as an industry that we try to get a national consensus on legislation that would bring positive change," she said. The bill supported by the protest is not.
"We have to find compromises to find something that will work for all of us," she said.
Retired South New Berlin dairy farmer Ken Dibbell has been working on getting dairy farmers a fair price for decades. He said he didn't know anyone in the area joining in the protest.
"Nobody can afford to do it," he said, adding that something has to be done in the battle to get a price that reflects the cost of production.
Similar protests as recently as 1991 were not effective, he said.
However, "we have to get somebody to pay attention," Dibbell said. "It's a call for a fair price that will keep rural America alive."