Market milks dairy farms

June 15, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE
(Page 2 of 2)

"I would say that they're grateful for it, but I don't think it's keeping them in the black," Cashell said. "Hopefully, it will keep them afloat until things get better."

The federal government has paid approximately 75 Washington County dairy farmers $1,900,875 so far, Cashell said.

There are 160 dairy farmers in Washington County, compared with approximately 450 in Franklin County, Pa., Schwartz and Wagner said.

The National Milk Producers Federation hopes to further help dairy farmers by attempting to get them to join forces and reduce the supply of milk so prices will go up again, said Allen O'Hara. O'Hara is secretary/assistant general manager of the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association.

The national group is trying to get 80 percent of the nation's milk production involved in what is called Cooperatives Working Together, national federation spokesman Chris Galen said.

The program, initially to be for one year, would be paid for by farmers who would contribute 17.9 cents per hundredweight of milk production for the next 12 months of production, O'Hara said at a co-op meeting at Four Points Sheraton last Tuesday night.


For a producer who shipped 100,000 pounds of milk in a month, that would equate to paying $180 a month to the program, said David Roth, who has a dairy farm west of Hagerstown.

The cooperative program would do three things to reduce the supply of milk and try to balance supply and demand.

To stabilize milk production over the long haul, it would pay for a program to buy whole herds of dairy cattle that would be sent to slaughter, O'Hara said.

Second, the cooperative would offer incentives to dairy manufacturers and exporters to sell U.S. dairy products to foreign markets, O'Hara said.

Third, farmers can contract with the cooperative to reduce the volume of milk they produce, O'Hara said.

In doing so the farmers would agree to a price per hundredweight they would accept for meeting the reduction level, Galen said.

Price increase

National federation officials estimate a successful program could raise the milk price for farmers by $1.30 per hundredweight in one year, Galen said.

Farmers would volunteer to trim their herd or reduce milk production, but would still have to pay the 18 cents if their cooperative voted to participate in the program, Galen said.

Wiles said he doesn't want to trim his herd or reduce milk production. Production at the family farm hasn't increased in more than 30 years, he said.

Wiles said he is concerned that reducing milk production in the United States by eliminating some dairy operations might open the door to more foreign dairy imports, keeping the supply up and unnecessarily losing U.S. dairy farms.

Some farmers at Tuesday's co-op meeting voiced concern about the cooperative program, but most farmers approached after the meeting were reluctant to speak to The Herald Mail about the program and the farmers' plight with low milk prices and wet hay.

One farmer who spoke up during the meeting wanted to know why farmers should be expected to chip in 18 cents per hundredweight when they were not guaranteed a profit as a result.

Another concern was that the program wasn't truly voluntary for co-op members because the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers representative voted to join the program, farmers said.

In a telephone interview, Galen said the program doesn't kick in unless it includes 80 percent of the nation's milk production. A count to determine the program's fate is expected by July, he said.

Clear Spring area farmer Harold Carbaugh, who went to an earlier meeting about the cooperative, said it sounded more like the program was mandatory with no guarantee of a good return for farmers.

"We're not guaranteed one cent back, but we are guaranteed losing 18 cents to the program," Carbaugh said.

Carbaugh is a member of the Dairy Farmers of America, which voted to support the cooperative.

Many local farmers have cows that average more than 50 pounds of milk production a day, Carbaugh said. For a herd of 100 cows, a 50-pound average amounts to paying the program about $270 a month,.

Schwartz said some farmers may reduce milk production, but others may step up production to try to increase their revenue.

Asking farmers to voluntarily reduce milk production is like asking them to "stand in a circle and say, 'OK, who's going to drop their pants first?' That's what it feels like," Schwartz said.

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