Dairy compact role still possible Congress may give Md. a chance by ending contiguous-state rule


July 09, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

State agriculture officials said yesterday that New York's failure to pass dairy compact legislation does not necessarily exclude Maryland from membership in the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact.

When the General Assembly approved a bill clearing the way for Maryland's entry into the regional milk pricing consortium in April, it was thought that the compact would be limited to contiguous states.

The compact is designed to halt the sharp decline in Maryland's dairy industry. The state has lost 25 percent of its dairy farms since 1991 and 40 percent over the past 12 years. The decline was blamed on the low prices that farmers receive for their milk, prices that have not kept pace with rising retail prices for milk.

The 6 current members

The compact is composed of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. It sets the farm price of Class 1 (drinking) milk in those states.

Under the contiguous-state arrangement, New York and Pennsylvania would have had to pass compact legislation for Maryland to qualify for membership.

"Right now, the way the compact legislation is written, we can't join without New York and Pennsylvania," said S. Patrick McMillan, the Maryland Department of Agriculture's chief legislative official. When Congress reauthorizes the compact, it could eliminate the contiguous-state requirement.

McMillan declined to predict what Congress might do, but he noted that the draft legislation does not contain the contiguous-state requirement.

McMillan said New York "never took a thumbs-down vote" on its legislation. He said the lower house of the state legislature did not act on the legislation after it was approved by the Senate.

Legislation dates to 1996

Congress passed the Northeast compact legislation in 1996. That included a provision to allow the act to be reauthorized once the U.S. Department of Agriculture completed a reform of tTC the federal milk pricing program, which sets the minimum prices that farmers are paid for milk.

The USDA had been expected to compete its work by next April, but the officials think it might take until September next year.

Maryland Agriculture Secretary Henry A. Virts said "it would really hurt" Maryland's dairy industry if compact legislation was not reauthorized or Maryland was denied membership.

In an unrelated development, the Maryland Agricultural Commission asked Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday to appoint a deputy agriculture secretary, filling a slot that has been vacant since early January, when Virts was promoted from deputy secretary to secretary, succeeding Lewis R. Riley, who retired.

The 21-member board, representing most segments of the state's agriculture industry, is an advisory group to the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Pub Date: 7/09/98

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