Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday proposed $1.5 million in funds to help struggling dairy farmers participate in a federal program that aims to protect dairies from plummeting milk prices paired with the rising cost of feeding cows.
Hogan’s proposed $1.5 million will have to be approved by the Maryland General Assembly as part of the capital budget.
“For months we have been searching for a way to help our dairy farmers who are facing particularly challenging times,” Hogan said Thursday, Feb. 7, addressing the annual Taste of Maryland Agriculture dinner.
The proposed funding would help Maryland dairies maintain their margins — their income after paying for cow feed. If approved the state funds would cover the premiums dairy farmers would incur by registering for the the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dairy Margin Coverage program at the highest level: $9.50 margin.
“It’s ensuring your income over your feed, which is essentially the profitability because feed is our No. 1 expense,” said David Pyle, who with his wife Katie Dotterer-Pyle, milks 375 cows — mostly Jerseys — at Cow Comfort Inn Dairy, in Union Bridge.
Pyle’s dairy is almost exclusively a buy-feed operation, spending nearly $1 million on cow feed in 2018.
Dairies in Maryland struggle to compete with the economies of scale available to those in the Midwest. Low milk prices and the cost of feed affect all dairies.
In 1995 there were 1,009 dairies in Maryland; today there are 364, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
Today, there are approximately 30 dairy farms in Carroll County, compared to more than 700 dairy farms in the 1950s, according to the Carroll County Farm Bureau.
“My neighbors, all the way around me, it doesn’t matter which one it is, if they’re in the dairy business, they’re stressed right now,” Pyle said.
If Hogan’s proposal goes through and the state pays the farmer’s dairy margin program premiums, “You’ve just put yourself at a profitable level for the year,” Pyle said. “You won’t fall below that … you’ll continue to be able to pay your bills, your employees, pay your taxes, manage your business and move on.”
Paired with other federal government initiatives geared toward protecting dairy farms, Hogan’s proposal to pay Dairy Margin Coverage program premiums will give dairy farmers like Pyle a sense of security in knowing their milk prices — cost per 100 pounds — will be stable.
“It’s going to give a dollar higher per 100 weight, floor price,” Pyle said. “That means I will not fall below a dollar over what I got last year.”