Milk compact rejected in Senate Bill to put state in dairy group, set prices loses in committee

March 11, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee yesterday rejected proposed legislation that would have allowed the state to become a member of the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact.

Members of the committee expressed sympathy for farmers struggling to make ends meet and displeasure over retailers who charge considerably more for milk in the Baltimore area than in other parts of the state, but voted 8 to 3 in opposition of the compact bill.

The compact currently consists of five New England states and sets the farm price of Class 1 (drinking) milk.

"Whichever way I vote, I'm not going to be happy," said Sen. Clarence W. Blount, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Senate panel.

Blount said he didn't understand why Giant Food Inc., the largest grocery retailer in the state, charged "$2.89 for [a gallon of] milk in Baltimore and $2.33 in Hagerstown and Frederick."

But Blount said he could not do anything that might raise milk prices even more for city residents, and voted against the bill.

Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, a Somerset County Republican, was the most outspoken proponent of the bill, saying that it was needed to halt the sharp loss of dairy farms in the state. He noted that 82 farms had gone out of business since the legislature met last year. More than 40 percent of the state's dairy farms have disappeared over the past decade.

He said the farmers are getting the same price for milk today as they were 20 years ago, while the retail price has soared.

"Giant makes as much money, or more, off of milk as the farmers," Stoltzfus said. "That just blows my mind."

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat, suggested that the committee look for other ways to help farmers, perhaps a cost-sharing program that would give a farmer up to $1,000 on the purchase of new equipment.

"That's a nice gesture, but it's not really significant in helping to keep farmers in business," responded Stoltzfus.

Roy P. Dyson, a Democrat from St. Mary's County, suggested that the legislature look at the pricing structure of milk in Maryland.

S. Patrick McMillan, special assistant to the state agriculture secretary, said "it was very disappointing that our legislature didn't think it was important to take steps to help our dairy farmers."

He noted that nearly every East Coast and Gulf Coast state either has passed milk compact legislation or has bills pending.

The Northeast Compact includes Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. New Jersey recently passed legislation to become a member of the compact. New York and Pennsylvania are considering legislation.

"This is not the end of that," Blount said of the controversy.

Pub Date: 3/11/98

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