AB 31 would help struggling California dairy industry

June 25, 2013 

The governor and Legislature declared June Dairy Month to celebrate an industry that has helped shape the fabric of our state. Our dairy farms and happy cows are a source of pride and an important component of our economy.

In 2008, California's dairy industry created 443,574 jobs and generated $63 billion in economic activity for the state. Whether you are a trucker, veterinarian, farmer, distributor, grocer or consumer, you are positively impacted by this industry.

But unless we confront the crisis forcing hundreds of family-owned dairies out of business, those happy cows will be hitting the unemployment line. Government misregulation of milk prices makes it impossible for dairies to make ends meet.

In the last five years, nearly 400 dairy farms — 105 last year — closed in California. Stani- slaus County lost 85 dairies.

Meanwhile, California's remaining 1,500 dairies are sinking under the weight of soaring feed costs and the controversial cost structure within the state's milk pricing regulations. According to California Department of Food and Agriculture data, California dairy farmers lost $882 million last year. How could this be?

In 2012, it cost an average of $1.64 to produce a gallon of milk. However, because of CDFA pricing regulations, dairies were paid only an average $1.46 a gallon, an 18 cent loss per gallon. Over time, that is a back-breaker. Adding to the burden is an archaic price setting method that allows cheese producers to pay dramatically less for milk in California than in other states.

During Dairy Month, we recognize the importance of an industry built by generations of Californians, but we must also work to ensure our dairies get a fair price for their product. That's why we are supporting Assembly Bill 31. This bipartisan legislation would give CDFA the authority to stabilize and fix this flawed system.

California's milk prices would remain the cheapest in the nation, which means our cheese companies would continue to get a competitive price and our dairy farmers would be protected.

AB 31 would create the California Dairy Future Task Force, which will hold workshops and solicit input from the dairy industry and related businesses. It will make final recommendations to the Legislature and the secretary of agriculture before July 1, 2014.

While important work has been done to seek long-term structural changes, California dairies continue to go out of business. Losing dairies threatens all levels of our economy. Skilled workers are in danger of losing jobs, feed producers would suffer steep revenue losses and local communities would suffer a devastating economic blow.

This is a tough issue, and no solution is going to make everyone happy. As legislators, we are seeking a reasonable solution that allows the cheese companies and the dairies to compete and thrive for generations to come.

Celebrating Dairy Month means working to protect California's dairy families, many of whom we call friends and neighbors.

Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, is a state senator representing our area and Bigelow, R-Madera, represents the 5th Assembly District, which extends along the Mother Lode and Sierra from the Devils Postpile National Monument to north of Lake Tahoe.

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