Why can’t an adequate dairy bill be passed?

Arden Tewksbury
Arden Tewksbury

This morning I looked out one of my windows and I looked at the beautiful woods behind my neighbor Jim Luce’s farm, and in the midst of all the trees, a beautiful orange ball appeared, like a big moon. It was a beautiful, orange colored tree, that was rounded out at the top, that resembled a brilliant, orange ball. Then a deer trotted out by my woods all by herself, when usually there are more than 10 or 12 deer at one time. Then I looked to the southwest, and saw a beautiful fog hovering over the Susquehanna River.  

All of these sights remind me of a special saying our ag teacher would say at the right time. Mr. Light said, “And some people say there is no God!”

As 25 dairy farmers sat around the table at the Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture building in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania in late 1990, the idea of a new farm organization was conceived by these dairy farmers.  

By January 1991, new bylaws were written and approved by the state of Pennsylvania.

The founding fathers of Pro-Ag said, there are two critical issues that must be addressed (there were other issues as well).  1)  A pricing formula for agriculture producers that would allow the producers a chance to cover their costs and be rewarded a profit.  2) A supply management program must be developed to ward off overproduction and address the import/export potential problems.

After many years working with many other organizations and many of us testifying in DC and other sites with little results, one of my neighbors, Gerald Carlin, and I sat down at the Carlins’ kitchen table, and in two hour's time, we had the outline of a new dairy bill, to be known as the Federal Milk Marketing Improvement Act.

Gerald had already developed a mock dairy bill that was receiving some attention. At the same time, John Hathaway, a dear friend from Ilion, New York, and I developed a dairy bill for Senator Bernie Sanders (VT), that was identified as the Dairy Nutrition and Conservation Act. I traveled to Vermont and explained the bill to large crowds in two different areas.

Consequently, Gerald and I took our experiences and developed our new dairy bill.

The late Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced our dairy bill several times. Among many things, this new bill was intended to correct many inequities facing dairy farmers. 

However, the thrust of the bill carried out the ideas of the founding fathers of Pro-Ag. For one, the value of milk to be used for manufacturing dairy products would be the starting price in our pricing formula. This price would be the national average cost of producing milk as determined by the Economic Research Service, a division of the USDA. All milk used for manufacturing purposes would be identified as Class II milk. 

Two; the value of fluid milk would be developed by adding existing Class I differentials in all Federal Milk Marketing Orders to the Class II price. The actual pay price to dairy farmers would depend on the usage of milk in each Federal Order.

The bill also gave the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to develop the prices in unregulated areas.

Three; the real clincher to the Specter-Casey bill was the supply management program. This program was the part that was greatly misunderstood and caused farm writers to misrepresent the bill.

This program was never intended to tell dairy farmers how much milk they could produce, but what it did say was, if there was more milk produced than what was needed (after considering imports/exports) then the farmers that produced more milk than what was needed would be penalized on their extra milk, but not on their regular production.

Just think how present problems could have been alleviated if the Specter-Casey bill had been passed!

By the way, the extra milk that might be produced, would not go into manure pits on the farm, but would go to NEEDY people in the USA.

I still scratch my head as why this bill didn’t get passed.  

The other day I was going through some ancient material, and I came across an editorial written by the late John Bunting of Delhi, NY. John was a dairy farmer who had political ambitions, as well as being a writer for various farm papers. A big argument against the bill from Mr. Bunting was about the pricing formula which we considered all milk used for manufacturing dairy products would be classified as Class II milk.  

Mr. Bunting begged the questions, which processors will pay the same price for milk going into powder as for milk going into cheese?  Evidently, Mr. Bunting did not research his remarks very well.

A) Originally, in the old Federal Order #2, all milk used to manufacture dairy products was classified as Class II. However, even more important it is amazing to find out in the year 2000 when order reform began, the Class IV price (milk used for powder and butter) exceeded the Class III price (milk used for cheese) every month of 2000.

B) Since order reform began in 2000, the Class IV price exceeded the Class III price for at least 85 of the months!    

John wrote his article in 2009, and in 2009 the Class IV price exceeded the Class III price for six months, and in 2010, the Class IV price exceeded the Class III price for 10 months. It’s unbelievable that news sources throughout the country might have carried similar stories concerning the misinterpretation by John Bunting.  

In my opinion, Bunting’s stories across the country were one of the main reasons why the bill was held back from becoming law.

Bunting ended his remarks by saying, “dairy farmers deserve better than drum-beating for political non-starters.”  

I’ll take the support of John Hathaway and Gerald Carlin beating their drums before I would believe some of the writings of John Bunting. 

Pro-Ag can be reached at 570-833-5776.