Answers To Dairy's Deepening Dilemma

Nor' east Thinkin'

Chasm of answers widens, even among dairy farmers

Published on: June 8, 2010

 This week, I began getting e-mails from dairy farmers beating the drum for a nationwide milk-dumping protest on July 4. Heart-breaking news of dairy farms selling out is everywhere. And person after person working in the dairy industry tell me “It’s going to get nasty this year.”

 Then there’s the side you don’t hear reported. Not all dairy farmers are going broke. Those squeezing through tough milk market times are staying “under the radar” – and wisely so.

Yes, changes must be made in America’s antiquated milk marketing system. But if you’re waiting for Uncle Sam to fix it, you’ll suffer the consequences – as much as the people of Louisiana who were waiting for help from Washington, D.C. – both times!

Change begins with you

What disturbs me most is that I see so many farmers who want change, but don’t see that they too must change – adapt their businesses. Nothing – absolutely nothing – runs forever without changing. That’s particularly so in an ever-changing marketplace.

Some of those complaining the loudest have already shown they’re most unwilling to change the way they do things. Last summer, for instance, I drove by one dairy farm that insists on its rights to sell raw milk without milk testing or permits. Note that I drove by. Due to the farmstead’s run-down condition, who would think of buying raw milk there?

Pennsylvania and New York’s dairy profit teams have great potential for helping farms make necessary changes. But all too often, they’re called upon as a last resort from the pits of desperation. And that’s far too late.

Federal changes will come – but not quickly

One change that I’ve proposed for more than a year is to bring about a country-of-origin labeling of all dairy products. Yes, processors and manufacturers likely would scream in protest.

Then, let the marketplace and consumers choose where they want their milk, yogurt, cheeses and ice cream components coming from. I believe they would overwhelmingly choose to buy 100% American-made. And ultimately it would bring dairy manufacturing and processing back to the United States – especially manufacturing of milk protein concentrates, which hold the dairy industry’s future.

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack’s Dairy Industry Advisory Committee is well-stacked with good minds and Northeast representation – seven of the 16. Another is a former Pennsylvania dairy person and columnist for this magazine. I’m confident they’ll do their absolute best to bring forth rational and reasonable recommendations.

Whatever they come with, though, will likely be opposed by someone. And that’s a core industry problem. This spring, Vilsack as much as said that no policy change is likely until dairy farmers speak as one voice. And how likely is that?

In my opinion, one of the soundest ideas DIAC will consider comes from comes from Dairyman Marc Perosio of Groton, N.Y. His “Strategic Dairy Reserve” proposal is remarkably clear. And it would help clean up brucellosis and make major headway in riding the industry of Johne’s Disease. Here, in brief, are the key features:

  • Key to it is a 40-cent per hundredweight mandatory assessment on all milk produced. That would pay for removing 8 billion pounds of milk through the Cooperatives Working Together program. That’s his short-term remedy.
  • Step two is to test and remove all bovine tuberculosis cows from the national herd, then focus on Johne’s cows. Farmers would be paid $2,000 plus testing costs for each cow removed over the course of four years. That’s the mid-term remedy.
  • Those four years would give the industry enough time to rewrite federal milk marketing orders and pricing systems. The SDR would replace Commodity Credit Corporation in name and function. If SDR inventories exceed 1% of demand, for example, supply management tools would automatically be instituted. A 2% surplus would automatically trigger another herd reduction.

There’s much more to the SDR proposal. To read it, you’ll find it on this Web site under the “Exclusive” tab.

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