The long-awaited opportunity for California dairymen to decide their fate is upon them as the U.S. Department of Agriculture published its proposed Federal Milk Marketing Order in the Federal Register. The next step: California dairy producers get to vote up or down in a referendum that opens April 2 and ends May 5.
Dairy producers not members of a cooperative can expect ballots to be mailed to them shortly. Members of dairy cooperatives will need to contact their respective cooperatives to determine if the cooperative will vote in block for its members, or allow individual producers to vote. The USDA will soon contact those cooperatives covered by the marketing order to determine which path the organizations will take.
For the referendum to pass, two-thirds of the producers voting must approve, or two-thirds of the volume of milk represented must vote “yes.”
California producers previously approved a referendum to allow quota to continue. The USDA made clear early on that it would allow quota to continue under a proposed FMMO, but it would not regulate that quota program. In late 2017 milk producers in California voted to allow the State of California to manage the stand-alone quota program under a potential California FMMO.
The USDA decision closes a lengthy process that began in early 2015 with the proposal by California’s three dairy cooperatives – Land O’Lakes, California Dairies, Inc., and Dairy Farmers of America – requesting to join the federal milk order. A three-month hearing was held later the same year in Clovis, Calif. that allowed the dairy industry and the public to comment on the proposal.
In the end the proposal published March 19 in the Federal Register did not surprise the dairy organizations as draft documents released by USDA had the same language in them that the published FMMO has.
Meetings are planned to advise California dairy producers and the public about the proposed order. A public meeting takes place April 10 at 9 a.m. in the Clovis Veterans Memorial District building, 808 Fourth Street, Clovis, Calif. This meeting will answer questions on how the proposal will operate and how eligible dairy producers can participate in the referendum. The meeting will also be carried via live webcast.
Separate meetings are also slated for members of Western United Dairymen at the following locations:
- April 16, 10 a.m., Sonoma County Farm Bureau, 3589 Westwind Blvd., Santa Rosa, Calif.
- April 17, 9 a.m., Stanislaus County Harvest Hall, 3800 Cornucopia Way, Modesto, Calif., Training Room Center DE; and,
- April 18, International Agri-Center Social Hall, 4500 South Laspina, Tulare, Calif.
Kevin Abernathy, general manager of the Ontario-based Milk Producers Council says the ball is in the court of California dairymen as a referendum will get to decide whether California milk producers regulated by a federal order, or can continue being regulated by a state order many in California have argued is responsible for poor producer milk prices.
“I never thought I’d see this day,” Abernathy said of the opportunity for California dairy farmers to leave the state milk order.
Abernathy does not yet know how the cooperatives will handle the votes – whether they will let their members vote independently, or cast one vote on behalf of their membership.
“This is our opportunity to end the insanity of the state order,” he said.