DRACUT — Dairy farmers across the commonwealth have seen the price of milk remain relatively stagnant while the price of production continues to rise. A tax credit has been distributed to dairy farmers across the state, but that law has not been updated since 2008. By: Kori Tuitt
Some farmers, like Mark Duffy of Great Brook Farm in Carlisle, spoke up in front of the Revenue Committee at a recent State House hearing about his concerns.
“We had a task force and created a dairy tax credit nine years ago,” Duffy said. “Our existing tax credit has worked extremely well, but it’s nine years after it was first passed. It’s time to update.”
That tax credit passed by legislators is capped at $4 million annually to be dispersed among all the dairy farmers in the state.
According to the State House New Service, for the past two years, that $4 million was not enough to cover the loss for Massachusetts dairy farmers. Duffy hopes the cap can be doubled to $8 million annually.
“The dairy industry is a regulated industry and we’re in the world market. So, the price for dairy is actually calculated by the world supply and demand,” Duffy said. “That makes it very difficult as a Massachusetts farmer to survive the challenges.”
Warren Shaw, of Shaw Farm in Dracut, sells milk independently, but said that many dairy farms are dealing with the issue of milk prices.
“The price for milk is set by the federal government,” Shaw said.
“What has happened to the milk market is that because of an oversupply issue, the price farmers are paid for milk is almost half of what it was two years ago. As a result of that Massachusetts is losing dairy farms.”
Farmers like Charlie Tully, of Tully Farms Inc. in Dunstable, said advancement in technology has helped the farm become more efficient. His cows have activity monitors that let him know when they have eaten. The calves have a chip on one ear to that is connected to a sensor on their feeder that allows them to eat up to five times a day. Technology like that has saved time.
“One of the big things that’s different now than it was probably 10 or 15 years ago is the price per hundred for milk hasn’t really come up a lot, but you have a lot of technology that you can rely on that helps you become more efficient. That all comes with a price,” Tully said. “So it took production of cows at like 50 pounds per day up to 76 pounds per day in a matter of a couple years.”
Tully said just a few weeks ago they opened a storefront where they sell bottled milk and butter and ice cream. So far, Tully said the community response to the store has been positive and that there has been a lot of interest in local milk. They are also looking into starting home deliveries for the products.
“Labor costs are different than they used to be. Fertilizer is probably double what it was 10 years ago. Grain prices in the early 2000s were probably $200 a ton and they’re $400 a ton now,” Tully said. “Things like that are what your tax credit money probably really goes to.”
Last year was a terrible crop year because of the drought, Tully said, adding that it was the first time in 45 years they had to actually purchase feed. He said the tax credit has been a huge assistance, and helped him to build a barn last year. Although the tax credit has had a big impact for Tully, he said it would be great to see it improved.
These tax credits, however, are more than about helping dairy farmers survive. It’s about the communities these farms are established in.
“The real tragedy from the loss of dairy farms is also the loss of open space, rural character and pastoral settings and communities,” Shaw said. “It’s not like losing a corner drug store. When you lose a dairy farm, you lose a way of life.
“The farm brings with it so much value to the community,” he added. “That’s where the public should be concerned.”
Duffy said the community has been supportive of the farm and the legislators were receptive to the dairy farmers’ concerns in the past. Only time will tell if an adjustment will be made to the tax credit.
“It’s a process and we really appreciate the support of the legislators,” Duffy said.
Source: Sentinel And Enterprise