- Associated Press - Monday, December 5, 2016

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - New Hampshire dairy farmers hurt by low milk prices and the drought won’t receive any financial aid from the state before year’s end.

The Dairy Farmer’s Task Force instead wants the Legislature to vote on a funding relief bill early next year in the new session. The group on Monday endorsed a plan that would provide one-time aid to farms based on herd size, feed costs and how badly they were affected by the drought. A total price tag hasn’t been calculated, but Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said about 100 farms would be eligible for the relief.

“We should devote scarce resources to the farms that can make the case that they need it the most,” Bradley said.

Members of the Milk Producers Emergency Relief Fund had initially hoped to see $3.6 million in aid approved this Wednesday when lawmakers are sworn in.

The drought forced many farmers to spend more on livestock feed, and some reduced their herds to save money. That adds to the financial strain farmers are facing from low milk prices, which state officials say have dropped nearly 40 percent in the past few years. The state had 115 licensed cow-only dairies in October, down from 123 in January, the Concord Monitor reported.

Unlike some other dairy producing states, New Hampshire doesn’t provide regular assistance to dairy farmers. The emergency relief fund was established in 2007 but has never had money in it. Outgoing Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan has called on lawmakers to approve $2 million annually for the fund.

“We look around and we see that states have found ways to help keep local food, and that’s what the New Hampshire farmers are asking for,” said Mark Duffy, director of Agri-Mark, a dairy farmer cooperative that represents New Hampshire farms.

James Downs, who owns a farm with about 100 cows in Gilmanton Ironworks, said he’s glad dairy farmers’ struggles are receiving attention.

“I’m just happy something’s taking place; there’s some light being shed on it,” he said. “We need help, we need help long term.”

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Information from: Concord Monitor, https://www.cmonitor.com

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