No quick solutions offered for dairymen
State agricultural secretary to evaluate several proposed short-term solutions
By TIM HEARDEN
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