Hundreds of dairy operators, frustrated over high feed prices and low returns, will descend on Sacramento today to try to convince state officials to give them some financial help.
The grass-roots effort, led by several San Joaquin Valley dairy operators, is expected to attract 200 to 500 farmers to the state Capitol.
Chartered buses will leave the valley early today and a Facebook page was set up at
www.facebook.com/ProtestingCdfa telling farmers about the rally, scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.
California's dairies have been hit hard this summer by record prices for feed, forcing dozens into bankruptcy. Many say the price they are getting for their milk isn't enough to cover their bills. They want the state to adjust the government-regulated pricing system so they can get more money from milk processors.
"We receive the lowest pay in the nation," said Lemoore dairy operator Barbara Martin. "If we don't do something, we will continue to lose more and more dairies."
Dairy industry leaders requested, but did not get, a six-month increase of 50 cents per hundredweight on all classes of milk. This month, 100 pounds of milk is fetching $16.38.
Big part of this region
The north valley is a big part of the business. Milk last year brought an estimated $766.2 million in gross income to farmers in Stanislaus County and $452.9 million in San Joaquin County, according to their crop reports. Merced County has not issued its 2011 report but likely had even more dairy income.
The California Dairy Campaign, a farmer group based in Turlock, is urging members to join the rally.
"Right now, the price paid to producers does not come close to the cost of production, especially the record feed costs," Executive Director Lynne McBride said.
Although the state slightly adjusted the pricing formula in July, dairy operators and industry leaders said it wasn't enough.
"They gave us pennies when we need dollars," said Rob Vandenheuvel, general manager of the Milk Producers Council.
Several dairy organizations, including the Milk Producers Council, have sued the California Department of Food and Agriculture, claiming that it failed to calculate milk prices properly.
"The government has decided that they need to play a role in pricing milk and all we are asking them to do is their job," Vandenheuvel said.
State Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross said that while she sympathizes with the problems facing dairy operators, the state is limited in what it can do.
"Our system is designed to provide market stability and we have to take a balanced approached," Ross said.
The secretary said that adjusting the formula higher has the potential to have a negative effect on other segments of the industry.
To help find a solution to the dairy industry's troubles, Ross has put together the California Dairy Future Task Force. The goal of the 32-member group will be to recommend changes to the state's dairy pricing formula along with other milk regulations.
For Tulare county dairy operator John Pereira, the time for meetings is over.
After 42 years in the dairy business, Pereira was forced to sell his 1,400-cow herd in July to pay off creditors, including feed companies and the bank.
"It was the hardest decision I ever had to make," Pereira said. "But I didn't have a lot of choice if I wanted to keep my property."
Pereira, who is planning to make the trip to Sacramento, plans to rent out his dairy for several years.
"I don't think the people in Sacramento understand what is going on down here," Pereira said. "And it is time for us to stand up for ourselves."
Modesto Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2385.