Christine Stuart photo
Melissa Greenbacker and Daisy the cow (Christine Stuart photo)

Daisy the cow arrived at the Legislative Office Building Thursday morning ready to fight for the dairy industry and its farmers. Daisy belongs to the Greenback Farm in Durham where she is one of 350 cows.

Daisy planned on testifying inside the office building, but unfortunately she couldn’t fit through its doors. Instead, Daisy’s owner, Melissa Greenbacker, spoke on the cow’s behalf at a press conference near the entrance of the building.

Greenbacker said that farmers are losing one dollar on every gallon of milk they produce. It costs farmers $1.90 to produce each gallon of milk and the cows must be milked two or three times a day, regardless of the price of milk.

“What’s the point of me even making milk if I’m making my farmer lose money,” Greenbacker said. “Many of my cousins have already left the state because their farms have gone out of business,”

She said that 12 farms in the past year have closed. There are 157 dairy farms in the state.

“It’s times like these we must preserve local jobs. The dairy industry supplies more than 4,000 jobs in the state and contributes $1.1 billion to the economy,” Greenbacker said.  “That’s why I’m here this morning in Hartford to urge legislatures to create a revenue stream that will act as a safety net to support farmers like mine when they are faced with milk prices that are unfair to our farmers.”

The dairy farmers are looking for about $14 to $16 million in subsidies from the state. There are two proposals being considered, one would give farmers a tax credit and one would increase the licensing fee on retailers that sell milk.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal offered his advice on what he considered a “deadly serious subject.”

“Milk prices are sky high, dairy farmer compensation is at an all time low. Something is wrong with the milk market picture in the state of Connecticut,” Blumenthal said. “And I have said for years that there should be limits on the percentage markups. Those limits would create incentives for paying the farmers more but contain the cost for consumers. This idea will help stop the disappearance of Connecticut diary farms.”

Don Tuller, the owner of Tulmeadow Farm in West Simsbury said 70 percent of the state’s agricultural lands are farmed by dairy farmers. If Connecticut loses dairy farms then the infrastructure of farms are lost and the cost production goes up, he said. 

“When one farm leaves, it doesn’t come back,” Tuller said.

Cows on Greenbacker’s farm produce 100 pounds of milk a day. Every eight pounds amounts to one gallon of milk, allowing a cow like Daisy to produce 12.5 gallons of milk daily.

Even with farms like Tuller’s and Greenbacker’s there still aren’t enough farms to produce milk for the entire state of Connecticut. Tuller said if Connecticut loses more dairy farms it’ll have to turn to other states not only for milk, but other farm supplies and equipment.

“Clearly what you can see today is dairy farmers are getting churned, Connecticut consumers are getting creamed and we need to stop that trend in the state of Connecticut,” Blumenthal said.

Sen. President Don Williams, D-Brooklyn, said that to save the industry the state needs to develop an agriculture recovery fund. Ideally the fund would help dairy farmers and other agriculture entities facing crisis.

“Right now dairy farmers are in crisis,” Williams said at the press conference.

“If we don’t act now we can lose all our dairy farms,” he said. “It’s a shovel ready project in Connecticut. We have the tools, we know what to do, and we’ve got to work together, Democrats and Republicans, to get it done.”