‘Do Not Sign Anything or Write Any Checks.’ It is nearly four hours past quitting time, but I cannot seem to relax. Today I have had several phone calls and email messages related to the most recent and rather sudden Dean Foods crisis.
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This 50-cow rotary parlor can milk 500 Fair Hill Farms Holsteins in 11 minutes. Will Parson

It seems that farmers all over the country, including the commonwealth, have received letters from a Dean representative requesting large sums of money to help Dean pay back its unsecured creditors. Dean claims that this is permitted by the bankruptcy laws.

I want to reassure our dairy farmers that by the time you read this, the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board will have been working the entire past week on this issue alongside representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the Center for Dairy Excellence and the state Attorney General’s office. We are also in ongoing contact with Farm Bureau, representatives of Pennsylvania’s cooperatives, and milk dealers across the state.

Our main goal is to gather the most accurate and relevant information so we can provide guidance to dairy farmers on how to best navigate through this situation.

The past month has been stressful and the political divisions that exist in the country and the state have been daily news fodder. Now is one of those times, however, when we can all put aside our differences and work together. We want to, and we will! There hasn’t been a thought or mention of those differences all week, and I for one am so thankful. This current crisis should help show us what is the most important and how our dairy industry needs us all.

Yesterday (Monday), I had a phone conversation with a representative from Dean Foods who believes that it is a simple matter for farmers to avoid making the demanded payments. Given the timing of the letters and the deadlines imposed, that view ignores the emotional toll on farmers who received those demands.

What do we know? We know that, with possibly a few exceptions, dairy farmers in Pennsylvania, those who regularly sold milk to Dean as part of their normal farm operations, do not owe Dean Foods any money. We can confidently say to those individuals, “Do not sign anything or write any checks.”

Of course, farmers have the option to personally communicate with the legal firm that sent the demands for payment, or to hire an attorney to represent their farms. The board and the other agencies and organizations I mentioned above are actively working together to gather information from the Dean law firm. For those farmers who feel they can wait, we hope to have information and guidance disseminated within a few days.

The Center for Dairy Excellence is organizing an industry call for Thursday, Dec. 10, noon to 1 p.m. To join the meeting:

• Call 1-978-990-5000 (free teleconference call).

• Enter access code 553371 followed by the # sign when prompted.

• You will automatically be entered into the conference call and automatically muted.

I hope that all my readers can join us.

The Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board is always available to respond to questions and concerns. I can be reached at 717-210-8244 and by email at chardbarge@pa.gov

Carol A. Hardbarger is the secretary of the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board.

Last month, 14 of our dairy farms in Maine, as well as dozens of dairy farms across northern New England, got an unexpected and disappointing notice from Danone of North America saying that they were discontinuing their contracts with our organic dairy farmers in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and elsewhere.

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