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Milk legislation introduced

January 27, 1998

Milk legislation introduced

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - A year after trying to help dairy farmers with legislation aimed at setting price supports for milk, some lawmakers are taking a different approach to the problem.

A bill filed this week by the Western Maryland delegation to the General Assembly would allow Maryland farmers to join a group of northeast dairy states that have minimum milk prices set by a federally approved commission.

"That puts us in a bigger pool," said Del. J. Anita Stup, R-Frederick/Washington.

Stup led the fight last year to have the state set minimum milk prices, a controversial bill that was killed on the floor of the House of Delegates. But she said this attempt is a case of strength in numbers.

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Despite the new strategy, opponents of minimum milk prices, including retailers and some processors, say the federal compact would increase milk prices and eat into their own profits.

"We feel it's an anti-consumer bill," said James Vona, vice president for operations for Dairy Maid Dairy, a processor in Frederick, Md.

Stup denied that retailers and others in the dairy industry would be hurt by the legislation.

"A retailer can still charge whatever he wants for milk," she said.

Vona countered by saying higher shelf prices for milk eventually could hurt farmers because budget-conscious consumers might turn away from the product.

"That's just economics," he said.

The issue has particular significance locally. Washington County has 16,000 dairy cows and is the second-largest milk producer in the state, according to the state Department of Agriculture. Frederick County, with 30,500 dairy cows, is the largest producer.

The number of dairy farms in the state have been dwindling, down 25 percent over the past six years, according to the state agency.

Stup said she and her colleagues must act now because the federal authorization for the milk compact ends this year.

"If you care about the dairy farmers, you better vote for this," she said.

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