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Maryland dairy farmers

December 03, 1999

It's too bad that Maryland's dairy farmers can't turn all the hot air being expended discussing their problems into something useful. The federal lawmakers who profess to love the family farmer and hate sprawl could make progress on both issues, if they got serious about this. Unfortunately, at the Congressional level, there's been more yakety-yak than action on the matter.

Though the state lost 17 of its 845 remaining dairy farms last year, next month the price of milk is set to drop by $2.50 per hundred-weight, because Congress won't give Maryland permission to join the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact.

According to officials of the Maryland Dairy Association, that will push the price farmers get from above $16 per 100 pounds now to less than $14. Since it costs most farmers $14 to produce 100 pounds of milk, that means dairy farming will no longer be profitable.

Now guess what happens next. Because the only things the farmers have to sell, aside from some machinery, is their land, the sell-off of the farms will begin. Newspapers will write sad stories about the end of an American tradition and rural politicians will blame (as they should) their short-sighted big-city colleagues who were afraid their constituents would thrown them out of office for letting milk go up by a few cents a gallon.

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What those big-city guys fail to tell voters is that eventually, consumers will pay more for milk when the grocery chains have to buy it from states which have been wise enough to protect their dairy farmers. Nor are electedf officials sharing the fact that sooner or later, voters will pay for the cost of sprawl, either for the cost of new infrastructure, or when their own area's residents leave to build on a new housing lot in the country.

Maryland lawmakers, led by the now-retired Frederick lawmaker Anita Stup, pushed hard to put Maryland's farmers in line for a better deal. Last month the Congress locked Maryland out of that deal, a dairy compact that would have brought its farmers better prices. When it comes to Maryland's farmers, it seems its Congressional representatives are of little help.

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