Were 900 dairy farmers treated fairly?

Wisconsin State Farmer

A guest editorial by Arden Tewksbury. 

Arden Tewsbury

It must raise some eyebrows when a dairy cooperative chooses to market some non-members milk with their co-op members.  Certainly the co-op members have a right to be upset when they realize these non-member producers are not paying the costs that the members are paying.
However, Dairy Market Service (DMS) an arm of DFA (Dairy Farmers of America) willingly marketed the milk of these 900 dairy farmers knowing very well this arrangement could cause problems down the road.  On the other important side, many of these 900 dairy farmers had very little opportunity to obtain another market.  These non-member dairy farmers felt secure to have a market for their milk when in many cases, their former buyers of their milk simply turned them over to DMS.  
Basically, it appears that DMS markets milk under the same guidelines as a proprietary milk handler.  DMS certainly was not compelled to market these 900 non-members’ milk.  
Who is the largest loser in this game?  Certainly it is the 900 non-member dairy farmers.  
What is happening now parallels what happened in 1977.  That year proprietary handlers turned loose hundreds and hundreds of dairy farmers as well as turning back large supplies of milk to some cooperatives that the milk handlers had been marketing.  
It’s probably hard for these non-members to realize, but in total, 1977 was far worse than what is happening now.  
On the plus side, in 1977 (and other years) the qualified cooperatives had to have the capacity to handle the distressed milk like these 900 dairy farmers are experiencing.  This was under the co-op payment provision in former Federal Order #2.  
I have written several times my concern about the losses dairy farmers have experienced through order reform and the last Farm Bill.  The cooperative payment provision, if it was enforced, might have prevented the existing chaos.  Maybe I have missed something, but where are our elected officials, both state and federal, while this chaos is happening?  
Pro-Ag sent a proposal to Federal Order #1 with a resolution to temporarily solve the problem.  However, the Market Administrator ruled that a hearing would have to be held.  Well, let’s have a hearing.  
When other segments of our economy are suffering, our elected officials seem to jump over each other in an attempt to solve the problem.  
At least the Market Administrator in Order #1 did respond to our resolution, but when I talked with officials of the New York State Dept. of Agriculture, I was told they couldn’t do anything to help.  (Really?)   Also, Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture never returned my call.
Now I wonder if DMS/DFA remembers the song in the 1970’s, “You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me Lucille”?
I realize DMS/DFA sent a letter unexpectedly to these 900 dairy farmers regarding the co-op’s position.  However, the co-op chose the worst time of the year to announce their position.  Wow!
In my opinion, representatives of the co-op should have conducted meetings in proper areas of the milk shed to explain to these 900 dairy farmers their plans.  Anything less is totally unacceptable.  Or, is this DMS/DFA’s plan?  Finding a way to make these non-members become members of their co-op?  If so, the whole situation could have been and should have been handled in a different fashion.
One more time, dairy farmers have been turned over to the wolf.  
Pro-Ag can be reached at 570-833-5776.