MOUNT HOPE, Ohio — Several hundred dairy farmers in Ohio and Pennsylvania are determined to make a difference in policy that affects milk pricing and their bottom line.
On the evening of Feb. 22, English and Amish producers gathered inside the Mount Hope Auction barn to hold Dairy in Crisis II — a follow-up to a meeting in November that led to formation of Dairy Policy Action Coalition (DPAC), a 20-member board representing the interests of dairy farmers in both states.
“Unprecedented times call for unprecedented action,” the group says, and by hiring former Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Dennis Wolff and public affairs firm Versant Strategies, the group is taking its message to Washington D.C. and beyond.
Wolff said DPAC is “taking a bullet approach rather than a shotgun approach,” and has identified a specific set of criteria it wants changed.
Among it — eliminate the dairy price support program, increase the frequency of price reporting, inventory reporting and auditing, follow through with requests of the 2008 farm bill and begin forming an even better farm bill for 2012.
“If we don’t do this, nobody else will,” said Holmes County dairyman Alan Kozak. “Something is going to change. The dairy weather is right for change.”
But Kozak is one of several farmers who say enough with handouts and temporary aid. What he wants most is for the markets to be made fair.
“They’re (politicians) hungry to help us,” he said. “We don’t want help, we don’t want charity. We just want a level playing field.”
Wolff said there is growing consensus among dairyman for the same goals, even though many still have differences of opinion.
In order to understand where producers are coming from, the group sent surveys to all who attended. The survey asked them to rank the changes they felt most strongly about, and whether they favored, opposed or were unsure of various details pertaining to the way milk is marketed.
Wolff said the price support program, which establishes a federal minimum price for dairy products, creates a false market that hurts farmers in the end.
“That not only doesn’t help the dairy farmer, it actually hurts the dairy farmer,” he said. “When they go in and buy products off the inventory, it doesn’t go off the inventory, it just goes from the warehouse of whoever manufactured it, to the government’s warehouse.”
He called the program a poor use of taxpayers’ money and said it discourages the manufacturing industry from making any real developments.
As usual for the meetings, producers were given time to ask questions and voice their own concerns. One concern was dairy imports, and whether they could be reduced or stopped.
But Wolff said the economic climate isn’t right to reduce imports, with many producers concerned about how that could impact trade with other nations.
Kozak said one way to control imports is by fixing some of the problems at home, which have made imports attractive in the first place.
“If we fix our domestic milk problems, we won’t be so inviting to imports,” he said.
Get the details
All members of DPAC are dairy farmers, billing themselves as “a grassroots coalition of active dairy producers.” They are funded through donations by farmers and farm businesses.
For more information, to become involved or donate, call 800-422-8335, or visit www.dpac.net.