Redding: ‘Don’t waste a good crisis’


The Clarion-Clearfield-Jefferson county Farmers Union presented a painted slate in appreciation to acting Pa. Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding (right), who spoke at the group’s banquet Oct. 5 near Brookville. Also pictured is group president Wayne Shaffer, of Brookville.

BROOKVILLE, Pa. — If dairy farmers want to complain about the current low milk prices, they’d better be willing to offer a solution along with the complaints, or the situation will never change.

Pennsylvania’s acting secretary of agriculture, Russell Redding, spoke to farmers at two events in western Pa. Oct. 5: a dairy solutions forum in Butler County and the Clarion-Clearfield-Jefferson county Farmers Union annual meeting near Brookville.

“You never want to waste a crisis,” Redding said. “If we let this moment pass without reform, shame on us.”

His take

Redding outlined six areas that could boost the dairy industry.

First, producers need an emergency-type influx of cash to stop the bleeding at the farm level and buy some time to “get good thinkers together” and assess reform options, Redding said.

The short-term bandage could be happening sooner, rather than later, as Congress finalized the ag appropriations bill late last week that includes $290 million to farmers in direct payments.

Second, Redding challenged the industry to find the true value of milk, not what your milk check says the milk is worth.

“We know what we get paid for, but what is it worth?” he said. That answer is the basis of any milk pricing system reform.

Third, any dairy industry reform needs to include a critical review of imports — what products are coming into the U.S., where they came from and how they are classified.

Redding’s fourth point was risk management, and the lack of an affordable, meaningful and workable risk management product in the dairy industry. It might not be top on milk producers’ minds, but options for farmers are overdue, he said.

“Dairy is the only other major commodity with no risk management product, and I believe this is the best option that we have to protect our margin.”

“We need to get meaningful risk management like we have on the crop side,” Redding said, but admitted “there are some miles to go” before this will happen.

Federal overhaul

Fifth, is a fundamental change in the federal order milk pricing system.

Redding said that overhaul won’t happen overnight, but he was buoyed by the dairy advisory committee that U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is putting together to address the topic.

“If we can spend $3 billion for junk cars, I think we can come up with a system that can sustain our communities,” Redding said.

State impact

The state ag leader’s final thought was that the state itself could do more through the state milk marketing board.

Gov. Ed RendellEd Rendell had previously challenged the board to review the state’s milk marketing law and the board’s authority, and come back with suggestions beyond the over-order premium that could be doable. Those suggestions could include expanding the board’s authority, if it makes a recommendation in an area where it currently lacks jurisdiction.

The board had 30 days after receiving the governor’s Sept. 15 letter to conduct its analysis and formulate its recommendations.

S.B. 1645

At the Brookville meeting, members discussed S.B. 1645, a bill introduced in August by U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., that would amend the federal legislation (Agricultural Adjustment Act) and require the U.S. secretary of agriculture to set the price of Class II milk by using a national average cost of production.

The bill, referred to the Senate ag committee, currently has no cosponsors. A related bill, S.B. 889, was introduced by Specter and Pennsylvania’s other U.S. senator, Bob Casey, in April.

The local farmers’ group agreed to hold an informational meeting this fall on the proposal.

“There’s no guarantee that it will go, but it’s an idea, anyway,” said local Farmers Union President Wayne Shaffer. “We gotta do something, people.”

National union

Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, was also at the Brookville meeting to share his national update with the local members.

Johnson urged the members to use their own voices to tell ag’s story to their local, state and national legislators, and commended Pennsylvania and the local group on participating in the fly-in to Washington D.C. in September, and pressing the group’s stance on such issues as trade, renewable energy and the farm bill implementation.

Johnson said, however, the overriding topic in D.C. now is health care.

“That is the issue that’s sucked all the oxygen out of Washington.”

Pennsylvania Farmers Union President Larry Breech also thanked the local members for taking the time to travel to D.C. and talk to representatives back home.

“Your voice needs to be heard now,” Breech said. “That’s gold — 14 karat.”

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