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May 2010 Archive for Dairy Talk

RSS By: Jim Dickrell, Dairy Today

Jim Dickrell is the editor of Dairy Today and is based in Monticello, Minn.

Unanimity Elusive on Dairy Quotas

May 25, 2010

By Jim Dickrell, editor, Dairy Today


Despite claims by proponents of dairy supply management, reaching consensus is still an elusive prospect.


A telling example of this challenge comes from Idaho, which recently surveyed 120 dairy farms which milk just over 300,000 cows. This number represents 20% of the state’s dairy farms but 55% of the state’s cows.


The survey was conducted during the Idaho Dairymen’s Association spring meetings in eastern Idaho, in the Treasure Valley surrounding Boise in the west and in the Magic Valley in the Twin Falls/Jerome area of southern Idaho.


The results:


• In Eastern Idaho, 45% of the surveyed dairies (representing 55% of the surveyed cows in the region) supported a government-mandated supply management program. Another 45% of the dairies (with 37% of the cows) opposed it, and 9% (and 9% of the cows) were undecided. The average herd size of those surveyed was 200 cows.


• In the Treasure Valley in western Idaho, 59% of the dairies (with 65% of the cows) support supply management. Thirty two percent (with 28% of the cows) oppose it, and 9% are undecided. The average herd size of those surveyed was 2,000 cows.


• In the Magic Valley in southern Idaho, the results were just the opposite. Sixty-three percent of the dairies (with 67% of the cows) opposed supply management. Thirty-one percent (with 31% of the cows) supported it, and 6% (with 2% of the cows) were undecided. The average herd size of those surveyed was 19 cows shy of 3,000.


• When you add it all up, 56% of the Idaho dairies (with 61% of the total cows in the herds surveyed) opposed supply management while 37% (with 36% of the cows) supported it. Seven percent (with 3% of the cows) were undecided.


Demographically, eastern Idaho has the smallest, longest-tenured dairies in the state. Many of these operations grow their forage, buying in grain and protein as needed. Granted, it’s hard to know if the 11 dairies who participated in the survey are representative of all their neighbors. But it is interesting that these producers, who are most similar to the vast majority of their Midwest and Eastern peers, were evenly split on supply management.


Even more interesting are the results of surveys in Idaho’s two major milksheds—Treasure and Magic Valleys. While Treasure Valley may have a few more native-born Idaho dairy producers, these dairies are large by anyone’s standards, averaging 2,000 cows. And yet they opted for supply management roughly 2:1.


In the Magic Valley, where herds surveyed averaged 2,981 cows, the results were just the opposite, with a 2:1 majority opposing supply management. Go figure.


On the one hand, it wouldn’t be surprising if a strong majority of Idaho producers would have come out in support of mandatory supply controls. Idaho is no longer in the Federal Milk Marketing Order system, having voted out the Western Order several years ago. Through the depths of the Great Dairy Recession, Idaho prices plummeted well below $10/cwt—and stayed there. Only North Dakota had lower milk prices. So you would think anything that promises higher, more stable prices would be welcome.


Yet it appears a strong majority of Idaho producers are opting to go sans supply control. Perhaps they fear even more government intervention in their ability to do business as they see fit. For years, they’ve been under heavy state intervention regarding water management, water quality and air and odor regs.


There’s a message here for the rest of the country. If one state can’t come together on supply management, how will the rest of the country?

Milking Immigration Reform

May 07, 2010

By Jim Dickrell, editor, Dairy Today


Arizona Governor Jan Brewer might have done dairy producers across the country a huge favor when she signed her state’s controversial immigration legislation a few weeks ago.

The law requires anyone whom police suspect of being in Arizona illegally to produce “an alien registration document,” such as a green card, an Arizona driver’s license or other proof of citizenship. The law is likely unconstitutional and created a firestorm of opposition from immigration rights groups, churches and Democrats.


Even her home state newspaper, the Arizona Republic, chastised Gov. Brewer and a laundry list of state and national politicians for failing to protect the state’s best interestsConversely, a majority of polled Americans actually think the law is a good thing.


This maelstrom of opinion has certainly jump-started the immigration debate. (For five myth busters on immigration, click here.) President Obama had promised during the Presidential campaign to pass meaningful reform in the first year of his presidency. But he got a little distracted dealing with the Great Recession and health care reform. Gov. Brewer’s signature on the Arizona legislation refocused everyone’s attention.


For dairy producers, immigration reform has been front and center for years. Even as the government has backed off on Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids under the Obama Administration, every dairy with workers of dubious documentation (and even legal documentation) is “one I-9 audit away from chaos,” says Craig Regelbrugge, co-chair of the Agricultural Coalition for Immigration Reform.


Immigration issues have dominated recent 2012 Farm Bill hearings in Idaho and California. “At both hearings, spontaneously, the majority of witnesses raised immigration as a serious issue,” says Regelbrugge. “One witness testified that if immigration reform goes unresolved, the farm bill doesn’t matter.”


Some readers of this column argue that illegal aliens are a big part of dairy’s problem. They say that without such workers, large dairies can’t function and the milk surplus disappears.


This type of reasoning is short-sighted and narrow-minded. First, dairies of all sizes struggle to find willing workers. The Great Recession has alleviated that to some degree, yes. But you can bet as soon as recovery comes, the vast majority of the locals who took dairy jobs will migrate to something easier.


Second, the folks whom dairies hire all present documentation upon hiring. Dairies have little choice but to accept the documentation presented, and then must wait months for those documents to clear government verification.


Third, the resurgence of the dairy industry in the Midwest—from South Dakota to the Eastern Corn Belt—happened largely thanks to immigrant labor. Five to 10 years ago, dairy was in decline across the Midwest as older farmers steadily retired. But once larger dairies came in, the bleeding stopped. Processors started re-investing in existing facilities, and even started building new ones. That hadn’t happened for 30 years.


Fourth, dairies pay competitive wages. In the High Plains of Texas, cattle feeders complain the new dairies there increased worker wages some 20%. Plus all employees, legal and illegal, pay income taxes, Social Security and Medicare—whether they’re in a position to collect on the latter two or not.


No one is arguing for open borders and no documentation. Clearly, we need strong border security. But the best way to achieve that is to provide a rational, verifiable documentation system so that folks who want to come here to work can do so legally.


Whether the politicians can get that done in a highly volatile, Congressional election year is, frankly, doubtful. The Democrats see this as an opportunity to propose legislation that the Republicans can’t possibly support, yet paint them as anti-Hispanic. The Republicans must placate their base, which demands “no-amnesty” for the 12 million or so illegals already here. Post-election in 2011 could be even more polarizing, depending on how many seats the Republicans pick up.


Perhaps the best hope is incremental change. AgJobs, with its earned legalization process and revised H2A temporary worker permits, is one option. Coupled with tightened border security, it could offer agriculture and rural America some relief to the immigration crisis. To achieve this, rural area politicians will have to leave the bickering behind to become statesmen and stateswomen. It could happen. And if it does, thank you, Arizona.


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