The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is reaching out to the public for advice on solving what it acknowledges is a statewide “dairy market crisis.”
On Wednesday, the department posted an invitation on its website, asking members of the public and the dairy industry to help it in “identifying areas of improvement and formulating a plan to solidify the future of Pennsylvania dairy.”
In a related move to deal with the hard times for milk farmers, the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board, which controls the price of milk in the state, has set two public hearings in May on possible major changes that would affect milk producers, processors and consumers.
The hearings, to be held May 2 and May 15 in Harrisburg, were requested through a formal petition filed by state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding on April 5.
Both moves come as dairy farmers are reeling under four straight years of plummeting prices for their milk due to falling customer demand even while production remains high.
In Lancaster County, some dairy farmers have lost contracts with milk processors while others are going out of the business and selling their cows and equipment.
Amid this turmoil, Redding on April 5 formally filed a petition with the Milk Marketing Board, calling for public hearings on possible administrative actions as well as statutory changes to the state’s Milk Marketing Law to deal with what Redding called “the Pennsylvania dairy market crisis.”
He characterized the problem as a “precipitous and sustained decrease in the available markets for milk produced and processed in Pennsylvania.” He said a “comprehensive re-examination of the methods of operating the dairy industry are in order.”
Specifically, Redding recommended the board consider steps to more transparently follow how milk is handled at its various stages to make the milk-pricing process more “credible.”
Loopholes in law
Loopholes in existing law allow milk processors to not disclose certain costs of production and milk marketing that are deducted from what is paid to dairy farmers, the petition said.
“Increasingly, producers question the legitimacy of the entire Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board pricing system,” Redding said.
Another change Redding asked the board to consider is to require milk retailers to report milk they purchase and sell in the state.
Currently that kind of tracking doesn’t occur. “Such data is necessary for the continuation of credible, industry-supported and public-supported Milk Marketing Board pricing,” Redding noted.
He also suggests the board take administrative action and require that milk processors be required to give farmers at least 180 days notice of terminating a contract. Currently it is 28 days.
In response, the Milk Marketing Board has set a public hearing for 9 a.m. on Wednesday, May 2, to receive comments on statutory changes recommended by Redding. The meeting will be held in Room 309 of the Agriculture Building, 2301 N. Cameron St., Harrisburg.
A second hearing will be held at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, May 16, to hear and consider suggestions on other possible statutory changes to the Milk Marketing Law. That hearing will be held in the Monongahela Room of the Pennsylvania State Farm Show Complex, 2300 N. Cameron St., Harrisburg.
Pre-registration is required to speak at both hearings. The deadline to register to speak at the May 2 hearing is noon on Monday, April 30. The deadline for the May 16 hearing is noon on Friday, May 11. Notice to speak may be submitted online at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By: BLAINE SHAHAN