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Hard-hit dairy farmers are getting a bit of help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA announced late last week that it will begin making payments from the Dairy Economic Loss Assistance Payment program. The first payments from the $290 million fund could arrive by Christmas Eve, according to the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press.

Remember when milk prices were high and the product was called “white gold”? No longer. The Free Press reports that one 300-cow farmer said his losses in the last year will top $100,000. The farmer is due to receive $8,000 from the emergency fund. “Dairy farmers were devastated by the rapid fall in prices this year,” reports Dan McLean. “In July, for example, Vermont farmers were paid 40 percent less than the $1.79 a gallon paid in July 2008, according to government data. Prices have increased by some 27 cents a gallon since then, but remain below the break-even mark.”

McLean continues: “Prices have begun to rebound, but remain below farmers’ cost of production. In November, the USDA found that Vermont farmers were paid $1.34 a gallon. Wellington forecasts milk prices will approach $1.55 a gallon in the spring and might exceed $1.72 ‘if current conditions continue.'”

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