By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
Freshman Congressman David G. Valadao, R-Calif, has introduced legislation that would allow California dairy producers to petition the secretary of agriculture to be considered to join the Federal Milk Marketing Order system.
The bill, H.R. 1396, would provide for the inclusion of California as a separate order. It would require a two-thirds majority vote of California dairy producers for implementation.
The bill is meant to address California's struggling dairy industry, and is supported by California Dairy Campaign, California Farmers Union and Milk Producers Council.
The current California pricing system has led dairy producers throughout the state to close down, resulting in lost revenue and jobs, Valadao said in a press release.
California has operated under its own state marketing order for many decades. In the last two years, producers and cooperatives have petitioned the California Department of Food and Agriculture repeatedly to adjust the whey value in the minimum price formula for milk going into cheese vats to more closely align the price with those paid for Class III milk in federal orders.
The difference in those prices has averaged nearly $2 per hundredweight for the last two years and was $2.30 per hundredweight in January.
In 2012, California lost 105 dairy operations, more closures than occurred during the price collapse in 2009, California Dairy Campaign President Joe Augusto said in a press release.
Average cost of production in the state in January was $20 per hundredweight of milk, yet prices paid to producers amounted to just $16.60 per hundredweight, he said.
"The only way to restore some equity for producers in our state is by joining the federal marketing order system," he said.
"By joining the federal order system, we can bring our prices into alignment with prices paid to producers in the federal orders and improve the outlook for dairies in our state," said California CFU President Joaquin Contente.
The legislation was introduced March 21 and referred to the House Ag Committee. It has five cosponsors -- Reps. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; Jim Costa, D-Calif.; Jeff Denham, R-Calif.; Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif.; and Devin Nunes, R-Calif.