For the first time in recent years, California’s producer associations were in the same public room to speak about issues facing the state’s dairy industry. Executives and producer board members from the California Dairy Campaign (CDC), Milk Producers Council (MPC) and Western United Dairymen (WUD) participated in a question-and-answer roundtable during the show. During the hour-long session, the six-member panel discussed milk pricing, dairy exports, supply management, environmental issues, national dairy reform and intrastate cooperation.
The one thing they all agreed on: The CDFA should provide a hearing to review discrepancies between pricing formulas for California’s 4B price and the Federal Order Class III price.
“We can all agree we weren’t pulling enough money out of the whey stream,” dairy producer and WUD Board President Jamie Bledsoe said.
WUD CEO Mike Marsh said he was optimistic that CDFA would announce a hearing soon.
“2011 may have been a great year in much of the rest of the country, a good recovery year. Other producers were able to make up ground,” said Rob Vandenheuvel, general manager for MPC. “For a variety of reasons we have not been able to capitalize on what should have been a good year.”
When taking questions from the audience about support for current dairy reform proposals, Vandenheuvel told the audience his group looks at two things before throwing their support behind an idea.
“Will it work? Can it pass? Any bill or proposal needs to go through that filter,” Vandenheuvel says.
CDC’s board member Joaquin Contente said some of the proposals and communications to legislators seek to raise only awareness about “dire times” in the dairy industry. He challenged the other California producer groups to sign on to current proposals, even if they don’t think they can pass.
“It’s not that big of a deal to put a signature on a letter to Congress,” Contente said.
Vandenheuvel countered Contente’s comment by saying working toward dairy reform requires more than just a signature on paper. He reaffirmed that MPC supports the Dairy Security Act sponsored by Reps. Peterson and Simpson.
Marsh said his concern about the Dairy Security Act was a lack of congressional support for the proposal, which currently has a handful of sponsors. Margin insurance is an idea he said his board can support, but he has concerns that the feed price component of the margin formula, as currently written, might favor some areas of the country over California.
“The more we can get together and compromise, the better. The first thing that happens when you try to move legislation in Washington, D.C., or Sacramento is lawmakers ask, ‘Where is everyone else on this issue?’ said CDC Executive Director Lynn McBride. “We need to work together to outline basic principles we can all agree on.”
“It should be pretty obvious to everyone that this industry is going in 17 different directions,” said dairy producer Syp Vander Dussen, MPC’s board president.
“We dance around the elephant in the room. Everyone in the dairy industry thinks they have an entitlement to produce as much milk as they want, whenever they want. As long as that continues, we will never be able to solve our pricing problems.”
Vander Dussen explained why he supports the Dairy Security Act and its growth management program.
“Take the entire dairy industry and put them in a symbolic bus so that producers are passengers on the bus. The bus is hurtling down the road and hitting speed bumps. It has a loose steering wheel, a stuck gas pedal and no brakes.
"Every time we hit a speed bump a few more producers go out the window. But we continue to insist we must go like hell.”
Each of the producers closed with reasons why they chose the trade association they were representing. PD
Expo seminar summaries
For the first time ever at World Ag Expo, Progressive Dairyman presented nine dairy-specific seminars. Prominent experts from across the U.S. addressed issues at the forefront of today’s dairy industry.