Farmers face another fight Effort by state dairy industry to join milk cartel goes to Congress

Strong opposition expected

May 06, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Maryland dairy farmers, still celebrating their recent hard-fought victory in Annapolis for the state to seek membership in a Northeast milk pricing compact, were told yesterday that they face another tough battle in Congress.

"You are going to be going up against some powerful forces who are opposed to compact legislation," Christopher R. D'Arcy, staff director of the House sub-committee on livestock, dairy and poultry, told directors of the Maryland Dairy Industry Association.

The dairy trade group went to Capitol Hill in hopes of winning support for legislation that would allow Maryland and most other Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast states to join together in consortiums that would set the regional farm price for Class 1 (drinking) milk.

Legislation passed by the General Assembly last month and signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening only gives the state the right to seek membership in the already existing Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact.

Congress still has to approve the continuation of the 2-year-old Northeast compact and the addition of any new states. The compact currently consists of the six New England states: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

D'Arcy told the group's directors and a handful of farmers that the House Judiciary Committee is more than fundamentally opposed to compact legislation: "They are hostile to compacts."

He said that this is because such price-setting arrangements are generally forbidden by federal law. "That's the reason they need to be approved by Congress.

"You have your work cut out for you," D'Arcy said, noting that supermarkets oppose the legislation and will label it "a price-fixing scheme."

"Not every member of Congress has a farm in his district," D'Arcy said, "but they will have a supermarket in their district."

He said that the chances of Congress approving a compact bill will be hurt also by the fact that the dairy industry is not united behind the legislation. Most Western states, he pointed out, are opposed to compacts, fearing limits on milk production.

The original Northeast compact legislation was part of the 1995 farm bill and contained a three year limitation, after which it is subject to renewal. Unless extended by Congress, it will be dissolved next April.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Republican whose Western Maryland district covers most of the state's dairy farms, said that the vast majority of the members of Congress don't come from farming districts and have little understanding of production agriculture.

He said that most bills are complicated and it was important for farmers to let their representatives know when they have a certain interest in a piece of legislation.

Bartlett told the group that he would encourage Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes to call a meeting of the Maryland congressional delegation to discuss and, hopefully, support compact legislation.

Pub Date: 5/06/98

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