608(c) 18: Petition to USDA to Raise Farm Milk Prices
(Click on red headline links below to access updates)
September 26, 2012:
Senate Letter to Sec. Vilsack
As dairy farmers struggle to cope with rising production costs driven up during this summer’s severe drought, a bipartisan group of senators from leading dairy states on September 24 asked Agriculture Secretary Vilsack to review the floor price for raw milk.
September 13, 2012:
Milk Price Petition: 608(c) 18 Update & Strategies
Page 15 Straight Talk Discussion
August 28, 2012:
The Milkweed’s Web site will update visitors on progress regarding the proposal to raise farm milk prices using existing, legal authority held by USDA – Section 608(c) 18 of permanent farm law.
Gray’s (Lack of) Anatomy
by Pete Hardin
Talk about a “Can’t Do” mentality. The following e-mail was written by Robert Gray, executive director of the Council of Northeast Farmer Cooperatives. Mr. Gray is employed by the likes of Dairylea Co-op, Agri-Mark, Dairy Farmers of America, et al. No doubt about the source of Gray’s “Can’t Do” attitude.
Following is the verbatim text of Gray’s email message to our source:
From: BGray15452 <emailaddressredacted>
Sent: Mon, Aug 27, 2012 7:36 am
Subject: Re: Article by Hardin in Milkweed; mentions petition to Ag Sec
Hi nameredacted! This 608 (c) provision in the federal order law has been argued about for a long time. USDA argues that it does not compel them to increase farm milk prices to meet feed costs and so they have always maintained that the Order system has a process for increasing prices through hearings etc. I don't know if there will be a request for a hearing---as you know they take forever to get an answer---although the last Farm Bill speeded up the process.
Hardin and company have used this argument many times over the years and if it was possible under current law to force USDA to increase farm milk prices to meet feed costs it would of been done via a law suit. The cost of production argument is so vague and varies so much per farm that this has never got any traction. The dairy cooperatives and any other farm groups could request a hearing on the price situation but I very much doubt that much would come out of it.
Many articles about dairy's vulnerability under current law in the press today. Hardin should not raise expectations on this because it just will not result in a price increase in milk. Are his folks asking for a hearing? I doubt it. Bob
------ End of Forwarded Message
Let’s review what Gray got right.
Yes, we have pushed the powers granted the Secretary of Agriculture under 608(c) 18 to raise regional milk prices, when parity prices for milk are far below grain costs. In fact, the last time this idea was promoted was 2009 – the worst financial year for U.S. dairy farmers ... until 2012.
Yes, USDA has waved off discussions of 608(c) 18 in the past. Yes, Gray’s analysis of USDA’s glacial movement on milk price hearings is correct. But U.S. dairy farmers are in a milk-pricing emergency. Farm milk prices started way behind grain prices and show little capacity to keep up.
Persons in dairy with the producers’ best interests at heart should not discount honest efforts to promote an existing, LEGAL proposal to raise farm milk prices.
Timetable & Strategies for Promoting 608(c) 18
Here’s our optimistic timetable for promoting higher farm milk prices through Section 608(c) 18. To summarize: that section of federal law gives the USDA Secretary the power to hold a milk order hearing to raise farm milk prices, if milk prices are unduly low, compared to grain and feed costs.
1) Get petitions in to USDA. Best to e-mail them to Dana Coale, who heads the dairy division of the Agricultural Marketing Service. Request an emergency hearing under 608(c) 18, in “dairy country” (not Washington, D.C.) Coale’s e-mail address is email@example.com
2) Contact elected federal officials (Congress persons & Senators) to request Secretary Vilsack hold a prompt, emergency federal milk order hearing under 608(c) 18 powers. Vilsack needs a prod.
3) Await Vilsack’s response to these requests ... but not too patiently. Right after Labor Day, The Milkweed will contact AMS’ Dairy Division to see what petitions have been received and what the government’s response will be – details in the September 2012 issue and our Web site.
4) Will USDA call a
national milk order hearing, as is being requested? If so, prepare for a
hearing. If not, dairy farmers’ disgust with USDA should be vigorously voiced
during this presidential election season.
PA Dairyman: DFA “Hadn’t heard of 608(c) 18” ... but co-op will import cheese from New Zealand to help tide over U.S. dairy product shortages.
A dairy farmer from Pennsylvania reported the following on Friday, August 25:
· After reading in The Milkweed (August issue) about the emergency milk pricing power held by the USDA Secretary, the dairy producer started calling farm organizations and elected officials about this idea. Then he called his milk cooperative – Dairy Farmers of America. He was told that DFA was not familiar with this section of milk order law.
· That day, the producer received a letter from DFA, discussing concerns about future dairy product shortages in the U.S. Don’t worry, DFA assured its members in that letter ... DFA will work with its foreign partners to import cheese to help meet this nation’s needs, in the event of cheese shortages.