For months, U.S. dairy industry observers have watched the nation's dairy farms spinning into an accelerating financial death spiral while their supposed champions, the management of the nation's largest dairy co-operatives, sat silently and ineffectively on the sidelines. The witlessness and complacency of what passes as "leadership" in these large farmer owned organizations is near beyond comprehension.
The underlying cause of the current crisis is a gross imbalance of the U.S. milk-feed ratio caused by the rapid rise in world grain prices. Current world grain prices must be seen as a new reality; the U.S. dairy farmers' problem is not that the price of dairy feed is too high: the U.S. farm price of milk is too low. To prevent a catastrophic over-slaughter of U.S. dairy herds and an inevitable shortage of dairy products in the dairy cases of U.S. supermarkets, a solution must be found.
Time is of the essence; the milk-feed ratio must be brought back into some semblance of balance in the near-term. Any solution requiring an act of our incompetent, dithering Congress will come, woefully, far, far too late.
There is, in the 1937 enabling act of the Federal Milk Marketing Order system, an untested clause, Section 608(c) 18. This statute requires the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, when petitioned, to hold emergency hearings to examine any imbalance of the milk-feed ratio and, if justified, restore the ratio to parity by adjusting the Federal Minimum Milk Price. The time for a testing of the provisions of Section 608(c) 18 is now clearly at hand
Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack has ignored any individual petitions from hundreds, if not thousands, of U.S. dairy farmers and dairy consumers. Word leaking out of USDA suggests he will remain unmoved unless he sees petitions garnered under the auspices of the nation's largest dairy co-operatives, on their letterheads and carrying their CEO's signatures.
So why does he not find reams of these petitions littering his desk? This is a question the member farmers of Dairy Farmers of America, Land 'O Lakes, UpstateNiagara, Dairylea, Maryland-Virginia, Agri-Mark and a multitude of other dairy co-operatives should ask their co-op directors. Dairy Farmers of America single-handed, could place more than 27 percent of the nation's dairymens' signatures on Vilsack's desk at negligible cost.
Why haven't the CEOs and co-op executive boards been doing what their farmer members have every right to expect them to do? With a possible solution at hand, failure to circulate and produce these Section 608(c) 18 petitions on Vilsack's desk should bring the incompetence of these people into sharp focus.
They should be darkly and with extreme malice remembered by those pitiful (for if matters continue, pitiful they will surely be!) surviving farmer members at next year's dairy co-op.
Nate Wilson, 65, is retired from 40 years of dairying on a small Chautauqua County grassland farm.