Capital Press

SACRAMENTO — A half-dozen state lawmakers urged California Department of Food and Agriculture officials Sept. 12 to enact provisions of a deal announced this summer between dairy producers and processors on the state’s price of milk used for making cheese.

State Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, led a chorus of appeals for a CDFA administrative panel to grant a temporary 46 cents per hundredweight increase in the price of Class 4b milk and an increase in the cap of the whey value from 75 cents to $1 per hundredweight of milk.

“I think it’s far overdue,” Cannella told the three-member panel. “We’ve lost too many dairy farms over the past few years. ... We cannot sit by idly as more dairies close.”

The officials also heard from Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte; Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced; Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank; and Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina — all of whom said producers in their districts had been devastated by milk prices that haven’t kept pace with high feed costs and other expenses.

Later, Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, told panel members that economic conditions for family dairies warrant the state to guarantee short-term relief while creating a stakeholder task force to address long-term issues.

“The answer is not a hand-out,” he said. “The answer begins with an agreed $110 million of new money being paid by processors to producers, and the appropriate calculation for the price of whey so that California dairies can earn a fair and competitive price for the milk they produce.”

Other legislators also urged the CDFA to step in.

“There’s a simple fairness issue,” Olsen said. “A fair pricing system depends on us in the Legislature and you in the Food and Agriculture Department. Doing nothing is not an option. Doing just a little bit is not an option.”

Berryhill said he flew back to Sacramento from Southern California this summer for a special Senate hearing outlining the deal between producers and processors, from which processor groups have seemed to backpedal in recent days.

He told the panel he grew up in a family that owned a dairy supply store, and he started contacting some of his family’s old customers when he was running for office.

“One of the things that became increasingly evident to me was that many of our customers ... were no longer in business,” Berryhill said. “The challenges the industry has faced have been devastating for family businesses like the ones I grew up working with.”

The lawmakers’ testimony came as the Senate on Sept. 11 revived a bill by Gray that would codify the existence of a dairy task force and develop other changes in the pricing structure. The bill was pulled from the suspense file and re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Earlier this year, Pan authored a bill that would have mandated that California whey bring at least 80 percent of the price for similar milk nationwide. But that bill was gutted in the Assembly Agriculture Committee in May and didn’t proceed further.

The administrative panel was holding an all-day hearing that was requested by Pan after the negotiated agreement between dairymen and cheese manufacturers, represented by the Dairy Institute of California. The pact sought to bring the value of whey in California’s pricing formula more in line with the whey value in Class III formulas in federal milk marketing orders.

“Let me be clear,” Pan told the panel. “The idea of doing nothing is not an option.”

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