California milk producers seek benefits of federal pricing program


McClatchy Newspapers

California’s huge dairy industry that has played by its own set of rules since the 1930s could partially end its unique way of doing business under new legislation that’s united lawmakers throughout the state.

Citing lost revenues and hard times, six House members from the rural Central Valley introduced a bill this week opening the door for California dairy producers to eventually enter a federal milk marketing system. The lawmakers, echoing the views of industry leaders, say it may be time for a change.

“Put us on a level playing field,” Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., said in an interview Friday. “We’re desperate now.”

Valadao’s bill would allow California dairy producers to petition the Agriculture Department for entrance into the federal milk marketing order system. If the producers go ahead and file that petition, the Agriculture Department would hold an industry vote. Approval by two-thirds of the producers would be required for the move to succeed.

Though California remains the number-one dairy state, producing about 41.5 billion pounds of milk in 2011, farmers have also complained about low prices and troubling times. Last year, the state reported that 105 dairy farms went out of business.

“Our legislation would put control back in dairymen’s and dairywomen’s hands, and give them the option to choose what works best for their business,” said Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif.

The bill, though, could also face “some pushback” from the dairy processors who buy milk, Valadao acknowledged.

Marketing orders, among other things, establish the pricing formula that determines how much milk processors pay for the milk they use, depending on the type of dairy product being made. Ten federal milk marketing orders currently exist.

California operates under its own system, established by a 1935 state law. For some time, California producers have complained about being paid less than producers in other states, who are part of the federal marketing order system. Valadao said Friday his bill would help “put us on a level playing field with the rest of the country” as far as dairy pricing.

California’s unique milk marketing order also includes a two-tier pricing system, part of which is called the quota. The quota entitles a producer to a higher milk price for some quantity of milk. Quota can be bought and sold. The legislation introduced Thursday contemplates California retaining this quota system even if the state’s dairy producers decided to join the federal milk marketing order system.

“Many of the farmers in the state have quota, and it has value,” Lynne McBride, executive director of the California Dairy Campaign said Friday.

A freshman House member, and himself a dairy farmer, Valadao took the lead in introducing the legislation late Thursday that mirrors some past efforts. In 1996, Congress included similar authorization language in a farm bill, but California dairy farmers never put the matter to an industry vote.

Last December, before Valadao took office, 17 California lawmakers, including Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, urged that similar authorization language be included in the latest farm bill. So far, problems in the Republican-controlled House have stymied farm bill rewrite efforts.

Valadao and his allies now have several options.

Although the legislation was introduced as a stand-alone bill, the typical vehicle for a measure like this would be a larger farm bill, as happened in 1996. This would give the measure more political momentum, as lawmakers from outside California have their own reasons for pushing a larger bill. Potentially, the measure could also move on its own, or even secure inclusion in another bill altogether.

Valadao added that “the fastest way” for dairy producer prices to rise would be for California state officials to adjust the pricing formula, a step he said his new legislation is designed in part to encourage.

Email:; Twitter: @MichaelDoyle10

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • Oregon Senate candidates push dueling narratives

    Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley wants to talk about taxes and the middle class. His Republican rival, Monica Wehby, would love to talk about the federal health care law.

This April 29, 2005 file photo shows Rep. Troy Woodruff,  R-Vincennes in Indianapolis.  Woodruff, who's faced an ethics investigation of land purchases that benefited his family,  is leaving the Indiana Department of Transportation department.   Woodruff sent an email to agency employees on Wednesday, July 30, 2014,  saying that he would step down Thursday.   (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Charlie Nye)  NO SALES

    Indiana ethics law faulted after official cleared

    Troy Woodruff knew his family's sale of nearly 3 acres of prime land near an Indiana highway project he oversaw as a top state transportation official would raise eyebrows. He did not disclose the sale even though the agency's ethics director recommended he do so.

  • Dem chair to US House nominee: he should withdraw

    The head of Mississippi's Democratic Party says he has advised the party's nominee to pull out of the 1st District congressional race because exaggeration of his military service — calling himself a "Green Beret veteran of Desert Storm" when he was a food service worker at Fort Bragg during the 1991 campaign in Iraq — has cost him support.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category