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Letter to the editor: Milk Marketing Improvement Act

Published on 30 June 2010

I will support any action, measure or legislation that will aid and/or comfort U.S. dairy farm families. In a recent e-mail, I was asked my view on the prospects of a specific measure, U.S. Senate Bill S 1645, The Milk Marketing Improvement Act of 2009.

Here is what troubles me about S 1645. It is my understanding this is the third time Arden Tewksbury and Company, (the authors) have gone to post with this horse. Many knowledgeable people see no better chance for passage of S 1645 on this third go-round in the Senate Ag. Committee, where it has already perished twice.

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I fear the reference to 2009 in the official title says it all. It is now 2010: if the Ag. Committee had any intention of voting this bill out to the Senate floor, it would have done so last year.

The U.S. Congress is not about democracy or justice. Appeals by dairymen to these virtues have and will continue to fall on deaf ears in Washington, D.C. What Congress is all about is power. The fuel that drives the little engine of power in Washington, D.C. is money.

The forces opposed to S-1645; the dairy cooperatives represented by the National Milk Producers Federation, (NMPF) dairy processors and retailers have the money to strengthen the arm of their opposition. In fact, dairymen who support S 1645 who are forced by circumstance to market through a co-op member of NMPF find their own money being used against them in this fight. As this S 1645 scenario plays out it requires little imagination to see the likely gloomy outcome for this initiative.

If dairymen don’t have money, does this mean they have no power? Not at all; “money” takes many forms in a commercial society. Dairymen may not have cash money per-se but they do have the very raw material of wealth, (money) and thus, power on hand at all times – their milk.

Withholding milk from the marketplace will not put money in anyone’s pocket short term, but to Congress and the American public such an action would be seen as a demonstration of raw power. The national media would be swarming over this unprecedented and historical story like blow flies over a three-day-old, high-summer, road-kill skunk.

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What does Congress fear more than it loves money? Public opinion. Normally Congress has no respect for the electorate. The exception to this is when the folks back home are aroused by some calamity or emergency. The voters and hence Congress, might well see an absence of milk in the supermarkets as either the former or the latter. Given Congress’ inaction, the questions posed by the media in such an event would likely make most Congressmen more than a little uncomfortable, especially in an election year.

Such an event would be a game-changer; an epiphany if you will. Immediately the plight of America’s dairy farm families would be rolling off every Washington politician’s sympathetic tongue. All would pontificate loud and at length of the immediate need to reform the corrupt farm milk price mechanism.

The roundly discredited price mechanism that now exists appears nothing short of deliberately engineered to be dysfunctional as a system of fair price discovery. This ridiculous system deals with less than 1 percent of the nation’s total milk. These regularly manipulated transactions then set the price for the remaining 99 percent. A limited number of elite major corporate players routinely game this system to their immense advantage and the immeasurable detriment of U.S. dairymen. This facilitates a contrived imbalance in the traditional ratio of financial rewards to the various players in the U.S. dairy industry.

In attempts to define the current U.S. milk pricing situation, many well- meaning folks (plus a few industry scoundrels) have opined it is a failure of the world economy or something “free market”-oriented. Others ascribe the situation to a national “cheap food” policy and feel too little is being paid by consumers for dairy products in the supermarket. These are grave errors.

The Milkweed editor, Pete Hardin, sums it up: “The money is in the marketplace!” The dairy situation in Canada is illuminating; Canadian dairymen receive twice the milk price of American dairymen, yet Canadian consumers pay 10 percent less for dairy products in the supermarket. Curiously, Canadian processors and retailers don’t seem to be failing either.

What further proof should be required to evidence U.S. price gouging and profiteering by oversized and monopolistic corporations? Still Congress and the Obama Administration fail to act. Somehow in a way consistent with Constitutional Law, Congress and the Administration need to readjust this rewards ratio of the dairy industry back to former fair levels. Sadly, there is little evidence they see the urgency that this be done now.

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So how do U.S. dairymen impress the urgent and compelling need for Washington to implement this absolutely necessary reform? Farm milk is the sole property of the farmer producing it until the switch is flicked and it starts up the hose to the truck. Dairymen may have to resort to exercising their power by invoking their absolute right of property: they may have to dump the milk ‘til Washington blinks!

Washington has had 18 months to act on this... if they had any honest intention of doing so, they would have long since. The fact they have not must now be seen by U.S. dairymen as clear evidence of bad faith. PD

—Nate Wilson is a retired dairyman from Chautauqua County, New York

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