Milk commission does a body no good Inflated prices: Dairy farmers must look to free market, not to state protection.

February 04, 1997

A STATE MILK commission, by any name, is a blatant attempt to inflate dairy prices and disadvantage consumers for the benefit of a special interest group.

It's a bad idea already rejected by nearly all states. It also runs contrary to national agricultural policies that aim to wean farmers from price supports to the free market.

Furthermore, its goal is to promote the welfare of only dairy farmers, even to the detriment of other types of agriculture.

Milk prices paid Maryland farmers are nearly three times what they were 30 years ago. Meantime, the number of farms and cows has dropped dramatically, while production levels remain the same. Overall consumer demand for milk has declined.

Nevertheless, a state task force urges a milk-price-setting commission, with Gov. Parris Glendening's approval. Legislation in the General Assembly would create a "committee" that would "recommend" floor prices for Maryland milk to the state agriculture secretary.

Maryland dairymen argue that it would level the local playing field, because Pennsylvania and Virginia have commissions that set prices in their states. Farmers in those neighboring states sell milk at high, regulated floor prices at home, and dump the rest at cut-rate prices in Maryland, undercutting the prices of Maryland farmers.

But the fact is that milk should flow freely between borders for the benefit of all consumers: over half the milk products consumed by Marylanders for years have come from out of state. There's nothing unique about Maryland milk. And there are federal rules that affect the regional prices paid to milk farmers. In response to the recent sharp drop in milk prices, from egregious overproduction, the federal government increased its purchases for domestic and foreign aid programs. So a federal safety net exists to assure adequate milk supplies.

Dairy farms and farmers will dwindle in number, producers will consolidate for efficiency, better-bred cows will give more milk. None of that will stop with a price commission. But artificial prices set by a committee will increase taxpayer costs of school-lunch and other food programs, and inflate prices for everyone in the grocery dairy case. That should definitely sour the taste for a state milk commission.

Pub Date: 2/04/97

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