State Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding visited Scattered Acres dairy farm in Bern Township on Aug. 21 to announce the first round of payments to be made to dairy farmers through the Pennsylvania COVID-19 Dairy Indemnity Program, part of the $40 million CARES Act.

The state has set aside $15 million for direct relief payments for farmers, such as the Hartman family, whose dairy in Bern had to dump 64,000 pounds of milk in late March after being told by their processor there was no room for it.

"Watching milk run down the hallways and into the manure pit is where fear and panic begin," Paul Hartman said on Aug. 21 from inside one of his barns, as his cows peacefully munched.

"There's still a lot of uncertainty, but payments from the state and federal government offer some stability to the agricultural sector," said Hartman, who manages Scattered Acres Inc., a family business with farms in seven townships across Berks and Lancaster counties.

Any dairy farm that experienced financial losses due to discarded or displaced milk during the COVID-19 emergency disaster may apply for assistance.

Farms that had COVID-19-related fees assessed on their milk check may also apply. Each farm with a documented loss will receive a minimum of $1,500 and can apply for an additional prorated share of the remaining funds, not to exceed the actual amount assessed by the handler.

Referring to the "complete freefall" the pandemic had on the dairy supply chain, Redding said, "The $1,500 is there for every single dairy producer.

"Don't leave this money on the table — apply today and receive $1,500. It's an easy, one-page application," he said.

Other farmers there to show support included Rodger and Dorothy Wagner of Lime-Mist Holsteins Inc. in Oley.

Their losses from dumping milk in the spring "hurt two months' worth of milk checks," Rodger Wagner said of the family operation begun 60 years ago and now run by their two sons.

"Milk prices fell $5 from February to April," said Jayne Sebright, executive director of the Center for Dairy Excellence in Lancaster.

Dairy farmers are paid per hundredweight, or one hundred pounds.

"Farmers have not had it easy for the last five years" and early 2020 looked brighter until demand for milk bottomed out, delivering a "crushing blow," she said.

"Prices are still $1 below where they need to be and this program can fill that need," Sebright said.

In the spring, dairy farmers were urged to keep records of what they lost.

Farmers like the Hartmans and Wagners did that and will be glad to get the money, expected in the next few weeks. Applications already received are being processed, Redding said.

So far, 900 farms have applied for the payments, leaving more than $13.6 million to be claimed, according to the department. A second round of payments will be made in September.

Pennsylvania has nearly 7,000 dairy farms with an economic impact of $12.6 million and ranks seventh in the U.S. for milk production.

Yet in Berks County, dairy farms are vanishing, according to the Wagners, who said dairy farms in their Oley neighborhood have dwindled from 11 to just a few.

State Sen. Judy Schwank, a Ruscombmanor Township Democrat, urged farmers to take advantage of the relief payments, saying, "We're in this for the long haul."

Hartman was optimistic, saying, "These payments are a sign that our government leaders recognize the significance of agriculture."

Find the Dairy Cares Reimbursement Application at https://expressforms.pa.gov/apps/pa/Agriculture/Dairy-Cares-Reimbursement. The deadline to apply is Sept. 30.

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