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Leaders ask government to ‘Meat the Need’

By Staff | Dec 4, 2009

Balancing supply with demand is a challenge right now for livestock producers, but they may get some federal help with a new proposal called “Meat the Need.”

The program calls for the federal government to purchase extra dairy, turkey and pork products by reallocating $2 to $3 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment stimulus package to reduce market supplies. The products would be given to supplemental food assistance programs, like food banks, school lunch programs and the SNAP-PLUS program – in which 36 million Americans are enrolled.

“It sounds like a good idea,” said Blake Smith, a dairy farmer near Evanstan. “If it can help out food banks and get a surplus of products off the market it sounds like a win-win.”

Smith’s father, Roger Smith, said the program may be more economically helpful than the Wall Street bailouts. He has operated the S-Riverbend Farm since the 1960s and has seen tough times, but nothing like this he said.

“The 1980s were different,” Roger Smith said, “because everything was down. Last year milk prices were down, but everything else was up, mainly energy prices.”

While some farmers have been cutting the number in their herds in an effort to bring production down, the Smiths milk 100 Holsteins, which is considered small in world of dairy operations.

“We’ve supported the CWT program – Cooperatives Working Together – since its inception,” Blake Smith said, “but other than that there’s not much we can do. When prices are down, the bills are still due. We just do the best we can.”

The dairy sector isn’t the only one shrinking its herd numbers.

Noel Thompson is a turkey farmer who has cut his farm’s production in an effort to balance the market.

Thompson, of Circle Hill Farms in Ellsworth, is one of 47 producers who does business with West Liberty Foods.

“We were all on a 50 percent cut back last year,” Thompson said. “With this coming year, it’s looking like it will be cut back a third.”

The USDA has made some purchases at different times shipping the products to schools and other programs, Thompson said, but as he and others struggle to make ends meet, a little stimulus is welcome.

“We’re doing our share to take turkey off the market, and that affects our bottom line significantly. We still have to pay the same bills even though we’re raising fewer turkeys,” Thompson said. “So anything is bound to help and is very appreciated. It’s good to get those protein products into people’s hands who can’t afford them.”

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey voiced his support for this program in September.

“Looking at the challenges facing producers, especially pork and dairy, last year, it only makes sense to get the surplus products off the market and into the hands of people who need protein,” said Northey in a telephone interview.

However, the fate of the proposal is uncertain, he said in part because the USDA has already bought $50 million worth of pork products and has pumped $350 million into the dairy industry for products and direct support.

With this infusion of cash, Northey is not sure how far this proposal will make it through federal legislature.

“I think in the end there’s not as much momentum as before,” Northey said. “I don’t know if it will happen.”

Contact Lindsey Mutchler at (515) 573-2141 or lindsey@messengernews.net

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