Home | Menu | Sign Up | Donate

Mitrano finds a connection between New York dairy farmers and George Floyd’s mourners: Pain, and politicians who are largely indifferent to it

PENN YAN—The topic for the June 2 Tuesdays Talks with Tracy—the state of dairy farming in New York’s 23rd congressional district—was scheduled before the protests that spread across the U.S. last weekend. But Democrat Tracy Mitrano, who seeks to represent that district in the House, saw a connection: Pain.

“What moved me when I began running for Congress and started talking to people in farm bureaus, to farmers, to people who had lost their farms, was the large number of people in this district who are struggling,” she said, during this morning’s media conference call. “There are people who are struggling all around this country. They are farmers and urban dwellers, black and white. The connection is that there is a lot of pain out there.”

New York dairy farmers have always faced challenges, Mitrano noted. But the current crisis, which began when milk prices plummeted in 2014, has been far worse—and the district’s current representative, Republican Tom Reed, has done nothing to help.

Where is the USDA?

The obstacles increased sharply in 2017, when the Trump Administration began. Trump tariffs and subsequent trade wars created more competition for domestic markets. The lion’s share of subsidies that were supposed to make up for the losses went to industrialized dairy farms in the Midwest, not to the small- and middle-sized family farms characteristic of this district. The federal government shutdown of 2019 was another blow, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) closed its offices at a time of year when farmers applied for credit to buy seed and start their season.

In fact, the USDA seems to be MIA when it comes to helping small and medium farms. The Secretary of Agriculture moved his office to the Midwest to be closer to the industrialized farms. Programs that used to help farmers during hard times evaporated.

“One of the big differences between this crisis and when it has occurred in the past is the lack of support and help from the USDA,” said Mitrano. “Under similar conditions in the 1980s, the federal government bought excess milk to make cheese and other dairy products for distribution by food pantries. There were programs for really small farmers to be able to get out, but not at submarket prices so that they could then reinvest in their education or a different kind of business.” Now, she said, “We're just letting people die on the vine.”

“No matter what Tom Reed or Donald Trump say when they claim to support agriculture and farmers, they do not. And it is not simply a ‘market issue,’ as Tom Reed has presented it to be.”

A processor rachets up the pain

Mitrano also took aim at The Dairy Farmers of America, a cooperative that has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to small farms after pleading no contest to charges of anti-competitive practices and fraud.

“They charge the farmers for everything: transportation, advertising, they've even added a covid-19 fee!” she said. “They squeeze every penny that they can out of them. The farmers are receiving checks in the hundreds of dollars, not the thousands.

“Then, when they’ve squeezed everything that they can, they end the contract and leave them totally without a market,” said Mitrano. “If a farmer complains about it, when the cooperative goes to pick up his milk, they test it and say, ‘Oh, it's filled with bacteria,’ meaning they won't come back for two, four and six weeks. And when they send those paltry checks out, they send along a notice with the number for a suicide hotline. How cold is that?

“Why don't we have a representative who wants investigations into what this is all about?” she demanded “Instead, Reed just goes for a photo op to a farm, stands with a bunch of cows and says how much he loves farmers.”

A desperate choice

The Farm Bureau offers a life insurance program that pays out even in the case of suicide. Eleven farmers in Western New York chose that option last year.

“They sell everything, and they still can't make ends meet,” said Mitrano. “That has moved people to commit suicide, in order for their family to get their payout. That's why I'm running for office. I want to help them. I want to address their pain in the way that politics can.”

She referred several times to a Steuben County farmer who committed suicide right after selling his herd last year.

“There are five children in that family. A young widow. That's painful. And so is what we saw happen in Minnesota,” said Mitrano. “And we can't find through empathy and compassion and understanding of other people's experience—enough common ground—to say, ‘enough is enough’? The number of farmers struggling in this district, the number of African-American people who have been struggling; let's find the right way to approach a connection and build a policy and a politics that will help all of us.”

An mp3 recording of this morning’s call is available on request: email [email protected]

Claudia Wheatley
[email protected]

Posted on June 4, 2020 in Press Releases.

Meet Tracy Mitrano

Tracy Mitrano is a cybersecurity expert, teacher, and mother. She was born and raised in Western New York and has lived in the Southern Tier and the Finger Lakes throughout her adult life.

Learn more
Mitrano family fun day