Carroll farmers back idea to form Md. dairy council

December 23, 1992|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

Carroll County dairy farmers yesterday supported the idea of a statewide dairy council that would serve as an industry advocate and help educate the public about the benefits of milk.

The proposal, along with one to create a dairy commission to regulate milk prices, was presented by a Maryland dairy task force at the third of four information sessions at Carroll's Agricultural Center in Westminster.

"We need to go to the legislature with one united voice," said Myron Wilhide, a task force member who cited environmental, land-use and animal-rights legislation that would affect dairy farmers as reasons for creating the council.

"If you have two people speak, they say the same thing, but a little bit differently, and you lose them [the legislators]," said the Detour farmer.

The dairy council would be modeled after the Virginia Dairymen's Association. It could support dairy research and provide scholarships for students interested in entering the field.

Yet local farmers seemed reserved about starting a state dairy commission because of the potential expense to producers.

"I've had enough of leeches and ticks sucking off of my milk check," said one farmer who did not give his name, referring to money he pays the federal government and a milk cooperative for advertising and other services.

However, the dairy farmers said they recognize that a commission is necessary to help farmers compete with Pennsylvania and Virginia, which have price regulations.

Presently, milk-processing companies from both of those states sell milk in Maryland for less than local producers because they don't have to pay cooperative dues.

In addition, independent producers are driving the price of milk down because they don't have to pay for a cooperative's services, said Boyd Cook, manager of Dairymen Inc., a Sykesville milk cooperative.

A dairy that buys milk from an independent producer can negotiate a lower contract with stores, forcing the dairy that deals with the cooperative to sell its products below cost.

Mr. Cook also said the proposed state commission could help prevent Maryland dairy contracts from going to out-of-state producers.

Six state contracts, totaling about $1 million, went to out-of-state producers last year, he said. Those contracts, for such facilities as state schools and penal institutions, were renewed this year because state officials said they didn't have enough employees to process bids.

A task force member said bids that are less than 2 percent higher than the out-of-state bids should go to local companies because of the taxpayer benefits to Maryland, he said.

The task force suggested that the commission, which must be created by the state legislature, should consist of three consumers, two milk producers and one milk processor.

The proposed commission would try to regulate milk prices by licensing all processors and distributors, requiring processors to sell milk at or above cost and creating a cooperative agreement with Pennsylvania and Virginia, Mr. Cook said.

"The commissions can then look across state lines and price milk so that it will not cause a disruptive influence in other markets," he said.

The task force was organized in April by the state Secretary of Agriculture to develop proposals on how to strengthen the dairy industry. After five meetings and the four information sessions, which end today, the task force will present a final report to the secretary.

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