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CT Lawmakers Push to Help Struggling Dairy Farms
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Connecticut Lawmakers are proposing legislation to save the state's struggling dairy farms. One proposal would increase the fees charged to milk retailers.

Connecticut has lost more than 50 dairy farms in the last two years, and has less than a third of the farms it had in the early 1990s.

"They're leaving at an alarming rate, and when they leave, so does that kind of agriculture and historical heritage of the state of Connecticut," said representative Bryan Hurlburt, the vice chair of the state's Environment Committee.

Hurlburt told WNPR's Where We Live that the biggest problem is the federally mandated price set for milk - only about $1 a gallon goes to farmers. That's compared with a cost of production that's nearly twice that much in Connecticut. 

Hulrburt said the state needs a more regional solution.

"When the floor is set at a price that's competitive in the mid west, that's not competitive here in New England, we should be able to change that," he said.

One proposal put forth by Hurlburt would increase the fees charged to milk retailers from $30 annually to up to $3,000. This would increase revenue by about $4 million. The proceeds would then go back to the state in the form of a relief fund to protect endangered farmers.

There are currently 157 dairy farms in the state, employing more than 4,000 workers. Hurlburt estimates another 10 to 20 farms will close in 2009. 

"If the state doesn't step in and provide some relief, we're going to continue to see dramatic numbers of dairy farm lost in the state, and that's something that I don't think we can afford for a number of reasons," he said.

But critics say raising the fees too high could harm small retailers. And, they say it wouldn't even begin to cover the $12 million to $14 million the state's dairy industry needs to stay afloat just this year.

The bill is currently before the Environment Committee.