California milk dump pondered
Some are skeptical that a milk strike would work
By TOM KANE
UNITED STATES - Prices that farmers are getting are so bad that some dairy farmers in California have threatened to begin dumping milk in order to get the attention of Washington and the nation.
Recent figures released by the Economic Research Service (ERS), a division of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), indicate that the national average cost of producing milk in the United States for 2008 was $24.07 per hundred weight (CWT).
Can you ever imagine the stress dairy farmers are under as they are trying to cope with these staggering costs while their milk checks are $12 per CWT? said Arden Tewksbury, manager of the Progressive Agriculture Organization in Meshoppen, PA.
Now, dairy prices have collapsed to 1970 levels and thousands of dairy farmers are in danger of extinction, said Katherine Ozer, spokesperson for the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC). Ozar and others hold out hope that a new bill will help solve the problem. Senate Bill 889 offers a real opportunity for us to fix our pricing system, and finally give farmers a cost of production for their hard work.
Senate Bill 889, the Federal Milk Marketing Improvement Act of 2009, was introduced by PA Senators Arlen Specter and Robert Casey. Its most important feature is that it connects what the dairy farmers get in the weekly check with their cost of production.
But others think that more dramatic action is needed. Dumping milk may be the only way to make Congress and the rest of the nation see how dire the situation is for dairy farmers, said Brian Smith, a dairy farmer and the chairman of the Wayne County Board of Commissioners. Theyre always talking about the fact that theres too much milk out there. Let them see what its like when we stop production. Theyll change their tune. Im all for it.
I dont agree with dumping milk while people are going hungry, but enough is enough, said California dairyman Walt Kellesser. If this milk crisis doesnt change soon, my family, my employees, vendors, etc. will be unemployed and unable to put food on the table.
Some are skeptical
I can tell you that this [milk dump] isnt going to happen, said John Bunting, a dairy farmer from Delhi, NY and a journalist with the dairy publication Milkweed.
Bunting said that he attended a special meeting this past week moderated by the Milk Producers Council that was attended by 100 milk producers, 100 dairy farmers and other suppliers. The topic was a dont-ship-milk- day. By the end of the meeting, it was concluded by most that a milk strike was not feasible. It helps no one and hurts everyone, Bunting said. A successful milk strike has to be very well organized in order to work, Bunting said. The last successful milk strike occurred in 1939, he said.
Until Congress understands that the pricing of milk is basically corrupt, nothing is going to happen, he said. Besides, dairy farmers represent a small number of voters and have little political clout. In 1980, there were 340,000 dairy farms, he said. Today, there are only 67,000 left. This group has little voting potential in the grand scale of things.