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Lawmakers try to help local farmers hard-hit by pandemic

Updated: Apr. 14, 2020 at 4:58 PM EDT
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HENDERSON, N.Y. (WWNY) - With markets closing, dairy farmers are left with little choice but to dump their milk. As they lose thousands of dollars daily, lawmakers are trying to find ways to help.

James Gilligan, owner of Bellewood Farm in Henderson, has been putting his milk in a tanker to have it dumped for almost 3 weeks now.

"We try not to think about it. We just have to do it and keep moving on. We've probably lost over $60,000 already," he said.

Lawmakers have heard of the hardships and want to help.

On Monday, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand proposed the Relief for America's Small Farmers Act.

"This legislation will help rescue these farmers by providing a one-time debt forgiveness of up to $250,000 across three types of USDA loans," said Gillibrand (D. - NY).

Local farm experts say they're thrilled by the gesture and it is a step in the right direction, but it's a limited act.

"My concern is I don't think the act goes far enough. It will serve a small group of farms that certainly need help, but all farms need help," said Jefferson County Agricultural Coordinator Jay Matteson.

Bellewood Farm likely wouldn't qualify for the help. Farms that earn more than $300,000 annually don't qualify. In farm terms, that would typically be an operation with more than 200 cows.

Plus, the farm has to have an existing loan with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But Gillibrand's proposal isn't the only one.

North country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik is also vouching for farmers, sending a letter to the USDA asking for a direct payent program, reimbursemens for dumped milk, and that the USDA buys dairy products and give them to food banks to stimulate the dairy industry.

Matteson has ideas of his own.

"Possibly to consider some kind of supplemental farm animal care act that provides a 3 to 4 month payment to commercial farms to supplement their feed cost," he said.

All are just ideas for now that need support.

Gillibrand says she will know if her legislation has bipartisan support by the end of this week. She says she will fight for it to be included in upcoming coronavirus response packages.

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