Ruling imperils Md. dairy farms, group says Judge's order to end milk pricing system should be appealed, bureau writes

November 14, 1997|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

The federal court decision last week ordering the Department of Agriculture to discontinue its system for pricing milk will drive what is left of the dairy industry in Maryland out of business, the state's largest farm organization said yesterday.

In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, the 14,800-member Maryland Farm Bureau urged the USDA to move swiftly to appeal U.S. District Judge David Doty's ruling in Minnesota that would invalidate much of the nation's system of pricing milk.

"If this ruling is upheld, Maryland dairymen will lose as much as $1.30 per hundredweight, which will send our dairy industry into a tailspin that may result in a complete loss of local dairy products in the state," C. William Knill, president of the Farm Bureau, wrote in the letter to Glickman.

The letter, which was also signed by Mehrle Ramsburg Jr., chairman of the bureau's dairy committee, notes that Maryland dairy farmers are already struggling to survive a multitude of hardships.

It notes that Maryland farmers have seen milk prices drop more than $2.50 a hundredweight, or about 15 percent, since last year.

The letter points out that the summer drought ruined feed crops for dairy cows, leaving the dairy farmers without adequate feed supplies for the winter, and forcing them to take on more debt to keep their farms in operation.

Doty's ruling last week threw out a Depression-era system of 32 milk marketing orders that pay farmers a price differential for milk based on their distance from Eau Claire, Wis., in the heart of the nation's biggest dairy region.

Warning of possible turmoil in milk markets, Agriculture Department officials have indicated a desire to appeal last week's decision.

Over the last decade, Maryland has lost about 40 percent of its dairy farms.

Record-low milk prices and what some farmers are calling the worst drought in 30 years have combined to force farmers out faster than ever.

In the past six months, 35 Maryland dairy farms have gone out of business, with the number of farms dropping from 911 to 876, according to William Zepp, of the state health department.

Pub Date: 11/14/97

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