Monday, December 11, 2006

Dairy Woes

Morgan, Cohen, and Gaul (almost sounds like an FDR speech) have an article in Sunday's Post on the dairy program, focusing on the "crushing" of an independent operator. If I understand, Mr. Hettinga started as a dairyman, expanded into processing, and eventually started selling his milk through Costco at $.20 per gallon below the price elsewhere. The story gets complicated very quickly. (Confession: though I grew up on a dairy farm and went to work for USDA, I never really bothered to understand how the program works. But here goes: in the beginning all the dairies in an area (i.e., Wisconsin, New England, etc.) were in a "pool" and everyone in the pool got the same price. The government, in the form of Commodity Credit Corporation, bought butter and cheese when milk was in surplus in order to maintain the price. In the last 25 years, particularly in the 2002 farm bill, there have been changes and additions to the program. There's also been a 75 percent loss of dairies.)

So two big issues are who is in the "pool" and whether production can flow from one pool to another. Hettinga was outside the pool, because he was both a producer and a processor. Long story short, through complex maneuvering on the Hill, he got forced into the pool. Such maneuvering is an old story--Nixon got dairy cash and Hillary and Leahy worried about milk pools, etc.

I can't cry any tears for someone with a private plane and his own lobbyist and Congressman. I'm more sympathetic for the 30 cow dairyman who is no longer operational. The problem is, dairies in the West are more efficient than in New York and big dairies with confined feeding are more efficient than small dairies with pasture. So you can't fight Progress.

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