After 40 days, and dare we say 40 nights, the California Federal Order hearing came to a close Wednesday.
Of course, this isn’t the end. It’s more like, as Winston Churchill opined, the end of the beginning. The administrative proceedings will continue with more brief filings, issuance of a recommended decision, more comments and finally, a final decision that will then be put to a vote of California dairy farmers. With a recommended decision not expected until late next year, the entire process could take another 18 months.
Dozens and dozens of witnesses testified on the four submitted proposals, and 194 exhibits were entered into the hearing record.
A USDA economic analysis shows that if the dairy co-op proposal is accepted, California milk prices could increase $1/cwt. But that would likely generate more milk production in California, and depress milk prices everywhere else. The analysis shows the processor proposal would be much more revenue neutral, increasing California prices just 10¢/cwt and Midwest prices 24¢/cwt.
Rob Vandenheuvel, general manager of the California Milk Producers Council, and a long-time advocate of reforming California’s milk pricing regulations, says the hearing was tedious but very inclusive. Every perspective was heard through the process, he says.
“I think it was a fair hearing, and we were able to lay out our cause. First, we were able to show why a Federal Order is needed in California, why the state order is deficient in a number of areas, and why the co-op proposal would be an improvement,” Vandenheuvel says.
Processors, on the other hand, testified that a Federal Order is not needed in the state. “California dairy cannot remain a zero sum game, where for one side to win the other side must lose,” says Rachel Kaldor, executive director of the Dairy Institute of California.
“We need to keep and build markets, and producers and processors have to build partnerships so that everyone can be on the winning side. The future of our industry depends on it,” she says.