EPA milk supply

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, right, and California Rep. Jim Costa field questions at a town hall meeting in Los Banos, Calif., on June 28.

It’s not every day a dairy farmer gets to bend the ear of USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.

But that’s what happened last week when Mark McAfee, an organic dairy farmer in Fresno and vice president of the California Dairy Campaign, got to tell the USDA chief what was on his mind.

Perdue was the guest of honor at a town hall meeting hosted by Jim Costa, D-Calif., on Friday. California Reps. T.J. Cox, Josh Harder and Doug LaMalfa were also at the packed event.

“It was a pretty exciting little town hall meeting,” McAfee said.

He took the opportunity to ask Perdue to support a three-pronged plan, which includes milk supply management, backed by the California Dairy Campaign.

Dairy producers have been struggling with milk prices below the cost of production for five years, and the industry is completely out of control, he said, adding that sustainability relies on managed supply, fair prices and good trade policy.

“If any one is missing, you have a major problem in the industry,” he said.

Right now, there is way too much supply, milk prices are way too low and trade is “all over the place,” he said.

About 2,700 dairy farmers in the U.S. went out of business last year, and subsidies are a waste of money — they do no good, he said.

“It’s unsustainable madness. Taxpayers pay billions, and producers continue to die,” he said.

The U.S. system is a hornets’ nest of cannibalism, with dairies getting increasingly larger with fewer producers, he said.

“It’s crazy. We need to change structurally or we’ll continue to have this madness,” he said.

If farmers controlled the milk supply, they’d see prices that are sustainable for everyone, he said.

CDC is working with dairy farmers across the country through the Dairy Together Campaign, calling for farmer-led, supply-management policy to balance milk production with market demand.

McAfee has spoken at numerous meetings on the subject, taking along a small three-legged milking stool to illustrate the three tenets of the plan — supply, price and trade.

He said Perdue’s first response was that a supply management program like the one in Canada wouldn’t work in the U.S.

But McAfee told him that wasn’t the plan. The plan is for an American program that combines the best elements of successful dairy systems around the world to make U.S. dairy producers sustainable, he said.

He thinks the USDA chief was more receptive to that, he said.

Capital Press has not yet gotten a reply to a request for comment from USDA.

Perdue asked if he could have McAfee’s milk stool to put on his desk in Washington, D.C., and McAfee said he is hoping it will serve as a reminder of what is needed in U.S. dairy policy.

Perdue also said he would look into an analysis by a university economist that shows the new Dairy Margin Coverage program will make things worse, he said.

That analysis — by Chuck Nicholson of Cornell University — shows DMC will decrease net dairy farm income by $2.4 billion and increase taxpayer expenditures by $4.4 billion because it interferes with market signals, he said.

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