By Rob Vandenheuvel, General Manager, California Milk Producers Council
For our readers in the Fresno area, you may have heard a celebratory cheer around noon on Wednesday, Nov. 18, as USDA’s hearing on a California Federal Milk Marketing Order (CA-FMMO) wrapped up.
Here’s the breakdown:
• 40 days of hearing, spread out over 9 weeks (September 22 – November 18)
• By my count, 83 witnesses testified, some multiple times.
• Testifying in support of Proposal 1 (cooperative/producer proposal): 32 dairy farmers (31 California dairy farmers and 1 from Nevada); 11 staff/consultants from the cooperatives and trade associations
• Testifying in support of Proposal 2 (submitted by Dairy Institute of California, on behalf of their California processor members): 21 representatives of individual processors; four staff/consultants from or arranged by Dairy Institute of California
• Testifying in support of Proposal 3 (submitted by the California Producer Handler Association) four individuals representing three of the four current exempt California producer handlers; two consultants retained by the California Producer Handler Association
• Testifying in support of Proposal 4 (submitted by Ponderosa Dairy, a dairy in Amargosa Valley, NV) two Nevada dairy farmers (one that also testified as a California producer/handler in support of Proposal 3); one consultant retained by Ponderosa Dairy (who also was one of the two consultants testifying in support of Proposal 3)
Next Steps: With this hearing now in the rearview mirror, we move to the next phase of the process – verifying the accuracy of the hearing transcript, and drafting post-hearing briefs.
That process will take place between now and mid-May 2016 (there are two separate briefing periods – an initial brief and a reply brief).
At that point, USDA will begin the process of developing a “Recommended Decision” based on the evidence in the record. No timetable has been set for that to be completed, although it’s probably realistic to estimate that would be completed late next year. After a comment period and additional revisions, a “Final Decision” is put forth by USDA for a referendum vote by producers.
All expectations are that a producer vote would take place sometime in 2017. So while the hearing is behind us, we still have a lengthy process in front of us.