On May 1, Agriculture Commissioner Shawn Jasper told state officials that the coronavirus crisis will devastate the New Hampshire dairy industry unless the state steps in to help.
Jasper was speaking to the Legislative Advisory Board of the Governor’s Office For Emergency Relief and Recovery (GOFERR). GOFERR is tasked with spending roughly $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds.
Jasper said dairy farmers are anticipating a $6.8 million shortfall compared to last year. He is asking for $5 million to keep the industry alive.
Why is the dairy industry in trouble?
When the government shutdown restaurants and schools, dairy farmers lost two of their major customers. Individual consumers started buying more milk, but grocery stores were slow to adjust. As a result, dairy farmers had a surplus of milk and milk prices slumped.
These problems follow several years of losses for New Hampshire dairy farms.
Last year Gov. Sununu signed a bill to create a program that would identify New Hampshire milk, with a fifty-cent premium paid by the consumer to support New Hampshire dairy farms. That program has not yet been implemented.
Do we need to save NH dairy?
According to the article from the Granite State News Collaborative, the New Hampshire dairy industry generates $55 million in state tax revenue each year and employs 5,300. That’s a notable boon for New Hampshire’s state budget and economy.
The coronavirus crisis has also rekindled interest in maintaining a local food supply. While supply chains are still adjusting, local milk producers are helping stock New Hampshire grocery shelves.
Is there a downside to investing in NH dairy?
Opponents argue there is already too much intervention in the dairy market.
New Hampshire dairy farmers are also eligible for various other government loans, including the Paycheck Protection Program.
Meanwhile there are dozens of industries competing for the $1.25 billion in CARES funding. The hospitality industry alone is estimating close to a billion in lost revenue this year.
Jerry Little, who leads GOFERR, recently said, “We're getting a lot of comments from people think that the GOFERR money might be able to make them whole for all of the damage that they've suffered from the coronavirus, but that's not possible. And so, like I said, there are tough decisions that are going to have to be made.”
GOFERR will start spending CARES funding in May, although there is no definite timeline.