Members of Senate and Assembly demand that deal to assist dairy farmers be kept

Thursday, the State Legislature’s last day in session, Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, joined six of her colleagues at CDFA headquarters for a hearing on milk pricing.  Galgiani said that an arrangement struck during a special hearing in her committee between milk producers and cheese processors must be kept.  In no uncertain terms, the Senator said representatives from both sides agreed on short-term and long-term solutions.

Eric Erba from California Dairies explained the good faith effort that achieved middle-ground.

The proposal has two basic tenets. First, there will be an emergency price relief for up to one year in an amount of no more than $.46 to be assigned to Class 4b milk.  This will replace the existing emergency price relief.  Second, the sliding scale used to value whey in the Class 4b formula will be restructured to result in a new ceiling of $1.00 per cwt. contributed to Class 4b, achievable at current market prices.
The long term solution also includes a California Dairy Future Task Force – whose members are dairy producers and processors – that is charged with providing economic research materials and proposed structural changes to the California dairy industry’s milk pooling and milk pricing programs.

WUD President Tom Barcellos thanked the legislators for their support. "It was important for the hearing panel to hear directly from the legislators with whom the cheese makers had made the deal,” pointed out Barcellos.  “The legislators asked the Secretary to implement the deal that the legislature negotiated in good faith.  It's been a long haul, but the evidence is overwhelming that this deal has to be implemented by the Secretary quickly."

Sen. Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto) said the loss of dairy farms in Stanislaus County has reached 85 in the past five years.  Berryhill, a farmer himself, insisted that the deal he voted on in the Senate Agriculture Committee be adhered to.  

Sen.  Ed Hernandez (D-Los Angeles), an optometrist by profession, spoke eloquently about growing up in Southern California and seeing dairy farms that were visible from the freeway. Now there is only one dairy farm remaining in his district. Hernandez said the value of a dairy farm is felt by an entire community and the preservation of this industry must remain a priority. He chastised those who suggest that the deal made in the Legislature can easily be broken.  He also added that dairy families are not seeking a handout. They want what they deserve - a fair price for the milk they produce.

Assemblywoman Kristen Olsen (R- Modesto) told the committee there is a crisis in California agriculture. In her words, we are in a downward spiral where families that have operated dairies for decades, and their employees and their families that have participated in this infrastructure, are seeing the quality of their lives endangered.

“We are at a crossroads and must make decisions quickly if the historic California family dairy industry is to survive,” said Olsen.  “The numbers speak for themselves. We lost an average of six dairies a month for the last six years and the number will grow in 2013.”

Olsen was passionate in her presentation. “For those who say be patient, things will get better, they need to talk to my constituents. It sure doesn’t feel that way to them. There is the fairness issue in what they should be paid for whey.  The buck stops with the Legislature and the Department of Food and Ag.  Doing nothing is not an answer.  Doing a little bit of something is not an answer either.”

Sen.  Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) said he was in Los Angeles with the Governor when he received word that the Senate Ag Committee was holding their emergency meeting on the deal struck between producers and processors. In his words, the agreement is real and needs to be kept so that the long-term sustainability of family dairy farms can be managed in California.

Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) promised that the Legislature would act if something was not done by the Department.  Gray told a moving story about his decision to run for office prompting him to visit the dairymen in his district.  The issue of preserving California dairies is as much personal as it is professional for Gray.

The legislators followed up their words at the Department with very firm action in the Legislature. Hernandez promised that all of them would work together to resurrect legislation that implements the arrangement that was made between the parties. AB 1038, which was languishing and about to die, was pulled from a committee at the last minute and sent to the Senate floor for a vote. The Senate voted 38 to 0 in favor of supporting the short-term fix and the long-term solution.

 Gray said the bill is immediately available when legislators return from recess as a means to address the crisis if the Department does not take action.  The Department has until the middle of October. Assemblyman Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), who was the initial author of the legislation, said the Legislature will neither remain silent nor be complacent.

Pan emphasized, “The economic conditions for family dairies warrant the Legislature and the Secretary working together by providing a fair price for milk and a long-term sustainability program developed by the stakeholder task force.”

Sept. 13, 2013 WUD Friday Update