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To make a few political points, pols put dairy farming at risk

May 22, 2000

In hopes that voters will pledge their undying gratitude to anyone who saves them a dime on each gallon of milk they buy, Massachusetts state senate leaders are proposing to pull out of the Northeast Dairy Compact. If successful, this small-minded, short-sighted action could cripple East Coast dairy farmers' best chance to survive.

Some income-support mechanism is essential because in some areas of the country, milk prices have slipped below farmers' cost of production. And before you say, "That's not my problem," consider the following.

When farmers find it impossible to continue farming, their land is sold, usually for development. When that development takes the form of residential development, then there's a need for new schools, road improvements and a host of other government-provided services. And anyone who believes that development provides enough tax revenue to pay for all those costs is living is kidding themselves, big-time.

In Massachusetts, the number of dairy farms has dropped to about 350, which state senate leaders have figured out means that most of the pennies per gallon consumers pay in price supports is actually going to out-of-state farmers. Not in California, mind you, but in New England area.

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And so, in utter disregard for farmers in neighboring states, state senators in Massachusetts wants to give the one-year notice needed to leave the compact. Instead, Massachusetts would provide its own $3 million trust fund from state tax dollars.

Without Massachusetts, supporters of the compact say it would be crippled, making it impossible for would-be members like Maryland and Pennsylvania to join.

The craven behavior of some politicians never fails to amaze us. For a temporary political advantage, a few Massachusetts officials are willing to put an entire way of life at risk. A real leader at the Congressional level, one who's not afraid ask the people for a tiny bit of sacrifice to save that way of life, had better speak up now.

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