Sen. Anthony Cannella: ‘We are committed to solving this problem’

Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), a key member of the California Senate Agriculture Committee, says that while he is disappointed with the collapse of an agreement that would have boosted the price paid to dairy producers, “We are committed to solving this problem.”

canella smallIn an interview this week with Western United Dairymen, Cannella noted that he and other legislators have spent a considerable amount of time searching for a legislative solution. “We have been fighting this fight for a while to try and get some equity for the producers. We are losing more and more family dairies. We want to preserve the family farm and have been trying to persuade the Secretary and have not been that successful so far,” he said.

The Senate Agriculture Committee held a special hearing just prior to the legislative summer recess and reviewed an arrangement struck between milk producers and cheese processors. The proposal had two basic tenets. First, there would be emergency price relief for up to one year in an amount of no more than $.46 to be assigned to Class 4b milk.  This would have replaced the existing emergency price relief.  Second, the sliding scale used to value whey in the Class 4b formula would be restructured to result in a new ceiling of $1.00 per cwt. contributed by Class 4b, achievable at current market prices.

But when Secretary Ross issued a decision on the petition filed by Western United Dairymen, California Dairies, Inc., Milk Producers Council and California Dairy Campaign, she wrote, “I understand there will be disappointment with this decision in light of the publicity surrounding the perceived agreement between producers and processors during the legislative session. However, the Department was not jointly petitioned by producers and processors – only some producers – and when questioned by the hearing panel, processors responded that there was no agreement.”

Referring to the special Senate hearing, Cannella pointed out, “Everyone was comfortable that we had a deal that included $110 million to help producers while we worked on a long-term solution. The bill passed and we walked away thinking we had a deal. I still don’t know why the deal went south. We heard from all the parties and thought we had a deal. I was extremely disappointed and very frustrated. We will continue to ring the bell about the problems that producers are facing.”

Canella met recently with Secretary Ross and Assemblyman Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) whose original legislation AB 31 introduced on the first day of session sparked legislative interest in the pricing crisis.“We brought up the deal and why it happened. We don’t blame Secretary Ross but we told her we are committed to solving this problem,” explained Cannella. “We explained our concern with the hearing decision and the fact that all it did was continue the temporary small price increase.”

Cannella and several other legislators testified at the Sept. 12, 2013 CDFA hearing on the petition submitted by WUD and other producer groups. “Basically, we were ignored,” said Canella. “But we are committed to finding a legislative solution. We are doing preliminary work with all of the stakeholders and we continue to look for a legislative solution. Milk pricing is so confusing but we simply have to give equity to the producers. We don’t have legislation right now but any legislative solution will be focused around providing relief to producers.”

Cannella expressed his belief that Gov. Brown should be involved in the process of finding a solution to the milk pricing crisis. “He has shown he has the capability to bring people together and solve problems. He has the ability to usher this along. It would be good for the governor to get involved and help solve this problem.”

Looking ahead, Cannella said his message for California dairy producers is that “They have the support of almost every legislator I talk to regardless of party. I hope they can keep the faith. Because of their hard work they are drawing attention to the problem at a time when there are so many other problems affecting the state. Their message is getting through.”

Looking at a long-term solution, Cannella says, “Part of problem is that we don’t have enough processors in this state. We need a fast tracking of CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act) for dairy processing. There is a huge demand for California milk. Its quality is some of the best there is.” Cannella expressed an interest in specific legislation that would fast-track a CEQA exemption for California milk processors and believes that Gov. Brown’s administration would be receptive to such a move.

Nov. 15, 2013 WUD Friday Update