The California dairy industry can change its destiny with the current Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) vote.
Three years ago, the three large dairy cooperatives that control about 75 percent of California’s milk asked the USDA to allow them to join the federal milk marketing system and leave the regulatory control of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. That petition led to about two months of hearings that to the layman made as much sense as the sounds the adults made in the “Peanuts” specials we enjoyed on television as kids.
For all the noise over the past umpteen years about how poorly California dairymen are treated by state milk regulators when it comes to milk pricing, one would think the FMMO vote would be a slam-dunk. After attending a meeting recently in Tulare, Calif. and chatting with industry representatives I was shocked to learn that it may be anything but.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that there can never be consensus in a room full of dairymen.
I’m told the milk cooperatives will “block vote,” meaning each cooperative will cast one vote on behalf of its entire membership. It’s understandable that some dairymen want the opportunity to vote as individuals, but this is the cooperatives’ petition. Surely dairymen and their cooperative boards agreed at the time the petition was submitted.
After hearing how many attempts it took to get a simple quorum in the recent state milk quota referendum the block vote is in everyone’s best interest.
Then again it may not be that simple. It never is with dairy pricing. I’m also told that one of the cooperatives might see the inclusion of depooling in the California FMMO as a “poison pill” and could vote against the measure over that alone. The question then becomes how much milk does that cooperative control and would that be enough to shut down the entire FMMO in the unlikely event that pigs fly and every other dairyman voting supports the FMMO.
California dairy producers can ill-afford to shut this down because they didn’t get everything they wanted in the proposed federal order. The alternative is a system proven unfriendly to California milk producers.
This is a good opportunity for the industry to come together and work for the common good of all milk producers, including the idea that bickering over formula pricing is not increasing consumer demand for U.S. dairy products that appear to be losing the marketing battle against plant-based alternatives.