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No quick solutions offered for dairymen

State agricultural secretary to evaluate several proposed short-term solutions


Capital Press

SACRAMENTO -- A state task force meeting here Oct. 24 apparently made little progress toward providing short-term relief to dairy farmers struggling because of low milk prices.

California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross set up a 28-member panel to discuss the plight of dairymen, many of whom are having trouble meeting rising feed and other costs.

Ross said in a statement the team had "achieved alignment around a shared vision for the future of the California dairy industry," which she called "a significant accomplishment."

However, the meeting did not yield any immediate solutions for struggling producers, lamented Jim Wilson, a Riverdale, Calif., dairyman who organized last week's rally for relief at the state Capitol.

"It just shows her inability to make a decision," said Wilson, who did not attend the meeting.

Ross said she expects to receive a petition soon for a hearing on short-term solutions, adding she "will evaluate it on an expedited basis."

"I hope she does do something for this industry," Wilson said. "It's a sad situation."

Producers want Ross to change the pricing formula for Class 4b milk. The state's price of milk used to manufacture cheese has been trailing the national price by about $2 per hundredweight, which is causing some dairymen to lose as much as $70,000 a month.

Dairy groups filed a lawsuit last month claiming the CDFA failed to follow the law in refusing to better align the Class 4b price with the prices being paid by cheese manufacturers around the country.

Meanwhile, Western United Dairymen's board voted last week to advance a bill in the Legislature to change minimum pricing for milk going into the cheese vat.

However, state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, said in an interview last week he doesn't think legislation could be passed quickly enough for many dairies. Producers contend an average of one dairy a day is going out of business.

"In the legislative cycle, you're looking at nine months" to pass even an emergency bill, Cannella said. "A legislative solution isn't the right fix. I've talked to numerous people who have gone out of business and people who are barely hanging on."

In a lengthy news release, the CDFA argued Oct. 25 that it has "used the limited discretion it is given by law" to make adjustments, such as raising the whey factor scale up to 50 cents per hundredweight based on commodity prices. Class 4b milk is up in recent months by about 30 percent, the department contends.

Future steps "must include reforms to our pricing structure," the department acknowledged.

Task force members

Here are the members of California's Dairy Future Task Force:

David Ahlem, Hilmar

Joey Airoso, Tipton

Joe Augusto, Visalia

Tom Barcellos, Tipton

Marcus Benedetti, Petaluma

Ben Curti, Tulare

Rochelle De Groot, Hanford

Joe DeHoog, Ontario

Lucas Deniz, Petaluma

Eric Erba, Visalia

Frank Fereira, Red Bluff

Mike Gallo, Atwater

Dino Giacomazzi, Hanford

Dominic Grossi, Novato

Scott Hofferber, San Bernardino

Dennis Leonardi, Ferndale

Steve Maddox, Riverdale

J.T. Maldonado, Hanford

Tony Mendes, Riverdale

George Mertens, Sonoma

Rick Michel, Waterford

John Oostdam, San Jacinto

Brian Pacheco, Kerman

Ray Souza, Turlock

Sue Taylor, Denver

Arlan Van Leeuwen, Oakdale

Sybrand Vander Dussen, Chino

Simon Vander Woude, Merced

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