Sherburne, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Life as a small dairy farmer in New York has been like living on a very narrow ledge where any imbalance can make living extremely difficult according to third-generation farmer Frank Van Althuis.
"Things can go backwards real fast if the milk price drops, fuel goes up, equipment is so expensive," Van Althuis said.
But, now a new insurance program set to replace an older safety net built on subsidies could make life in the lean times easier for all farmers large and small.
The Margin Protection Program will serve as an optional insurance plan farmers can buy into.
The plan will replace the Milk Income Loss Contract, known as the MILC, which acted more like a subsidy for farmers when the milk price dropped below profitable levels.
The new insurance plan for dairy farmers promises to help more family farmers like Frank Van Althuis survive by providing more support depending on their needs and contributions into the plan.
But farmers are asking how they will figure out the complex equations in order to determine what size plan is best for them.
"There's a lot of uncertainty and frustration on how this is going to affect us farmers," Van Althuis said.
Senator Charles Schumer visited his farm to promote the flexibility of the new plans for each dairy farm, and promise assistance in helping farmers understand the plan.
"Farmers know their business best and the new insurance program entrusts to farmers which level fits their needs," Schumer said.
Schumer wants $6 million from the budget to help small farmers understand their choices.
He said if farmers like the ones in Chenango County aren't helped, America could lose more than just good food.
"The greatest things our farms produce, even more than the milk, or the apples, or the wheat, or the corn," Schumer said, "Are American values."
Chenango County Farm Bureau President Bradd Vickers said he spent three years advocating for the protection program.
"Without the safety net for our farmers," Vickers said, "A lot of that cost would come to local taxpayers and probably mean the loss of some more farms."
Now farmers have the insurance program they asked for but they still need help deciphering it.
Schumer said $3 million will go to setting up a USDA website that can guide farmers through the process and calculate their best plan.
He would like some of the other $3 million to help local farm bureaus help farmers with the plans individually.
"Anything they can do to make it more understandable and easier to assess for a farmer to make his decisions to the best implement into his business is a good thing," Van Althuis said.
The new insurance plans will take effect beginning in September 2014.