Washington Millions of pounds of dry milk will be hauled from storage caves and warehouses to 24,000 farmers in drought-ravaged states to feed their livestock.
Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said Tuesday that 218 million pounds of the government's surplus powdered milk -- enough to make 4.5 billion 8-ounce glasses -- will help farmers in the Plains and Western states as they prepare for what is forecast to be another dry spring and summer.
"One of our most pressing concerns right now is the ability of pasture and grazing lands to support livestock herds," Veneman said. "These herds are crucial to the livelihoods of many rural families, and they are the backbone of the economy in many rural communities."
Farmers in nine states, including Kansas, will get the protein-packed dry milk to add to grain for their livestock.
Because of the drought, pastures where the animals usually graze are sparse and brittle. Winter was not generous, either. It brought too little rain and snow to revive many fields.
Not only does drawing down the dry-milk stocks provide needed relief for farmers, it also will rid the government of a fifth of the 1.1 billion pounds of powdered milk piled up in storage.
The milk was bought during the past three years to prop up the prices paid to dairy farmers. The Agriculture Department paid about $1 billion to buy it, and storing it costs about $23 million a year.
Still, even after the dry milk is shipped to farmers, 882 million pounds will remain with the department continuing to pay storage costs.
Keith Collins, the department's chief economist, said if the drought should worsen, the agency probably will give producers as much as 250 million pounds more.
The dry milk will be sent in the next few weeks to producers in 100 parched counties in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.