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Editorial - Revive the milk bill

November 03, 1997

The Maryland Division of Milk Control last week reported that 35 Maryland dairy farms have gone out of business in the past six months, due to this year's drought and record low milk prices. Unless state lawmakers want to deal with the consequences of additional dairy farms shutting down, they need to revisit last year's proposal to set minimum prices on milk.

Last year's bill was amended to death, with metropolitan area lawmakers leading the charge to kill or weaken it. Trying to resurrect it again will no doubt provoke similar opposition, but it must be done, for two reasons.

In nearby Pennsylvania and Virginia, farmers have minimum prices set by the states. That subsidy means that if they have any excess milk, they can sell it at discount prices in Maryland. Simple fairness ought to dictate some protection for those who operate in this state.

But the other reason to promote dairy-farm preservation is that without it, the farmer often has no choice but to sell the land for residential housing development. That means additional costs for schools, local roads and other municipal services, costs that the taxes paid by homeowners don't cover completely.

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Our suggestion for this session is to take a few of those struggling farmers to Annapolis, where they can tell their stories to the appropriate committee and hopefully generate some interest on the part of statewide media.

Those metropolitan-area lawmakers who made a great deal of hay out of saving their constituents a few pennies on a gallon of milk during the 1997 session need to be asked whether they will support the alternative to minimum milk pricing - additional state aid for schools, water and sewer and other services.

It's clear to us the most painless way to keep the state's dairy industry healthy is to add a few cents to the cost of each gallon of milk, to make sure the farmers are getting a fair price for their product. Now rural lawmakers must convince their metropolitan counterparts that there are good reasons to preserve what too many areas have already lost.

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