Vermont dairy farmers are facing their greatest crisis yet.
The price of milk has dropped to $13.81 per 100 weight from $20 cwt just a year ago.
As the price of milk fell to its 2009 low last week, a triple-witching hour of sorts has taken place: The prices of fuel, feed and bedding sawdust used by farmers has hit the barn roof.
Now dairy farmers find themselves staring into an abyss of uncertain depth.
Since 2004, 250 dairy farms have closed in Vermont. Since January of this year, 32 farms have closed. Only 1,046 farms remain in business today and the figure shrinks each month.
According to state data, dairy represents 70 percent of Vermont's agricultural economy-over $2 billion. The state's farm business also generates over $68 million in local and state taxes with 96 percent of farm supplies-from feed to slop buckets-are purchased locally.
With ongoing farm closings , the crisis will expand affecting feed dealers, farm vehicle and equipment suppliers, processors, farm insurers and creditors and other businesses.
"The dairy pricing system in the United States is broken. It is antiquated, dating back to the 1930s when markets were not as complex as they are today, and simply does not work as originally intended. And although there has always been some volatility and market fluctuation in dairy pricing, the swings are becoming more dramatic and occur more often," according to Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Roger Allbee. "This most recent downturn in prices is the worst yet. Cost of production is almost twice what farmers are getting paid for fluid milk and it's predicted that these low prices will be in effect for a longer period than originally thought."
Dairy farmers Bob and Beth Kennett of Rochester are the human face of Vermont's current dairy crisis.
The Kennetts started their Liberty Hill Dairy Farm in the 1970s. According to state agricultural records, 50 farms operated in Rochester area back in 1960.
Nineteen years later, in 1979, only 11 were still in business. As of this month, the Kennetts have acquired the dubious distinction of being the last dairy farmers still operating in the Upper White River Valley.
"Like many Vermont families, Bob and Beth Kennett had hoped to pass their farm on to their children, Tom and David... to raise their own families on the farm," said U.S Rep. Peter Welch (D) in a recent statement about the crisis.
"But despite their efforts and their hard work, the family now finds itself saddled with loans and losing money with every passing day. Like so many Vermonters, they just don't know how much longer they can afford to keep their doors open," the Congressman said.
To address the crisis, members of the Vermont House and Senate Agriculture Committee sent an emergency letter to the Vermont Milk Commission. In the letter, committee members urged the commission to take immediate action.