Dear Progressive Dairyman, I’m a consumer, and I support the Specter-Casey bill. Signed, John Doe, Consumer Over the past several months, Progressive Dairyman has literally received hundreds of letters that are almost identical to the one above, mostly from Pennsylvania. They usually come in groups, but with individual names and addresses of people that are responding to the magazine’s dairy reform plan poll.
Receiving hundreds of letters to the editor is rare, but having them come from consumers is even more rare. Some of them arrive with a message about needing to pass the Specter-Casey Bill to “save our dairymen.”
Who is gathering men and women across Pennsylvania and surrounding states and getting them to check a box, sign their name and vote in a petition-like campaign?
Many of the letters can be ascribed to the Progressive Agriculture Organization (PAO), which was formed in Pennsylvania in 1991. According to Arden Tewksbury, manager for PAO, he has given poll ballots to hundreds of consumers and dairymen as he has been out raising money for PAO efforts.
“It takes a lot of energetic people like we have at our organization to get the John Doe public, the business people, the machine dealers, the feed dealers, the veterinarians and everyone involved in something like this,” Tewksbury says of the poll voting campaign. “These people have just as much at stake in this as anybody else does.”
Tewksbury says he doesn’t know exactly where all the letters came from, but he thinks many came from consumers who have visited a PAO information table set up at local stores and markets on the weekends. These information tables aim to raise money and awareness about PAO and the issues it believes most affect dairy farmers across the country. During the group’s weekly conference call, he also encouraged dairymen in New York and Pennsylvania to get concerned consumers to cast their votes.
“I explained to them that we could have consumers sign on because some consumers are concerned almost as much as dairy farmers are,” Tewksbury explains. “We told them they could do it by e-mail or they could mail them in. Some of them signed on, and some went out and got consumers to send their votes in.”
Before handing the poll to consumers, he and other members of the organization explained the purpose of the Specter-Casey Bill and how it would link the formulation for a dairyman’s milk price more closely to the regional cost of production for their milk. This message was evidently well understood, as most of the letters came with some note about giving dairymen a fair price or cost of production for their milk.
“When anybody comes to my farm – dairy farmers, feed dealers, supply people, anybody that comes in – I’ve made copies of the forms that you’ve had in your magazine and encouraged them to circulate them to anybody that has an opinion about whether dairy farmers should receive a fair price for their milk,” says Brenda Cochran, a dairy producer in Westfield, Pennsylvania. “I don’t call them up and ask them how many of them they have reproduced, but I made sure they understood they could reproduce them and distribute them, hopefully at great length.”
Impact of the letters
Progressive Dairyman ’s dairy reform plan poll results were heavily influenced by these letters. With 611 letters coming in favor of Specter-Casey – 543 of those from Pennsylvania mailing addresses – Senate Bill 1645 took a huge lead. Letters from Pennsylvania represent about 43 percent of the total votes. The Keystone State is also responsible for 29 votes online. Online votes were more evenly divided on the issue, 202 votes for Specter-Casey Bill, 172 for NMPF, 126 votes for DPSP and 55 for other plans. The letters that flowed in each week pushed the Specter-Casey Bill well ahead of the pack.
“We’re certainly not going to take a consumer and ask them to put a farm name on [their vote], like Smith’s Farms or something like that,” Tewksbury says. “We would never think of doing something like that. But we have encouraged consumers to participate in this [poll], there’s no question about it.”
One faxed poll response Tewksbury is aware of was a banker that works with dairymen in Pennsylvania. He says he showed her the poll and she copied it and sent in her vote. He also related a similar experience with a mechanic that also works with dairymen and farmers in the dairy industry.
Even though the poll has closed, PAO says it will continue to encourage people that stop by their community booths on the weekends to contact their local Senate and Congressional representatives to demand some action in behalf of dairy farmers.
“If we are ever going to get something realistic done to get dairy farmers a fair price, we have to get consumers putting pressure on members of Congress,” Tewksbury says. “It’s a tough battle to work with legislators and get things accomplished.”
Besides PAO members, there are others working to spread information about the Specter-Casey Bill, including the bill’s co-author Gerald Carlin and his wife, Tina, who are farmers in Pennsylvania; and LoriJayne M. Grahn, a Minnesota dairywoman. Tina Carlin and Grahn have posted a website, www.supports1645.webs.com, which gives extensive information on the Specter-Casey Bill.
“There is no official spokesperson,” Grahn says. “S.1645 is a public bill. National Family Farm Coalition is speaking on behalf of it. There are farmers in other organizations and independents that are speaking on behalf of S.1645 and supporting it.”
As evidenced by the result of Progressive Dairyman ’s summer-long poll, consumers are willing to listen to dairy producers’ efforts to explain proposed plans for dairy reform and to support them in lobbying for their success. PD
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