By Rob Vandenheuvel, General Manager, California Milk Producers Council
This past Tuesday marked the beginning of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) hearing to consider proposals that would create a California Federal Milk Marketing Order (CA-FMMO).
As the process wrapped up its first week, testimony on the actual proposals had only just begun Friday afternoon. The first 3½ days of the hearing were focused on procedural matters and USDA entering various economic and statistical data into the record.
On Friday afternoon, the first witness in support of the cooperatives’ proposal – Elvin Hollon from Dairy Farmers of America – took the stand to present testimony. That is where the hearing ended on Friday, with a continuation of that testimony to be picked up on Monday.
For anyone who has not attended a previous FMMO hearing or one of the first four days of this hearing, you may be wondering why the process is so drawn out. USDA describes this as an “inclusive hearing process,” and that is no understatement. Not only can anyone testify on the relevant subject matter of the matter of the hearing – without any time limit on testimony – but anyone in attendance can also ask questions of any witness.
In our limited sample size of four days, this cross-examination has been much more time-consuming than the actual testimony itself; and I would expect that trend to continue throughout the hearing.
Going forward, with the USDA-related evidence entered into the record, the general plan for the upcoming days/weeks of the hearing includes:
• Continue moving through testimony in support of “Proposal #1,” which was submitted by California Dairies, Inc., Dairy Farmers of America and Land O’Lakes (and supported by California Dairy Campaign, MPC and Western United Dairyman). This is a complete proposal – in other words, the proposal includes all the provisions needed for a CA-FMMO.
• After that, testimony will be given by the authors and supporters of “Proposal #2,” which was submitted by the Dairy Institute of California, on behalf of their dairy processor members. This is also a complete proposal, although it obviously has dramatic differences in key areas from the cooperative proposal.
• Next, testimony will be given by the authors and supporters of “Proposal #3,” which was submitted by the California Producer Handlers Association. This proposal focuses only on the producer-handler provisions being considered.
• Testimony will then be given by the authors and supporters of “Proposal #4,” which was submitted by Ponderosa Dairy, a dairy located in Nevada. This proposal focuses only on provisions accounting for handlers located within California that purchase milk from outside California.
Throughout this process – which is likely to take several weeks or even months – dairy farmers can typically testify at any point, regardless of what other witnesses may be scheduled for that day. In fact, during the first four days of the hearing, Administrative Law Judge Jill Clifton – who is overseeing these proceedings – asked on multiple occasions if there were dairy farmers in the room interested in testifying, and went on to state that dairy farmers who come to future hearing days will be given the opportunity to testify whenever they are able to attend, regardless of what else is being discussed that day.
For those interested in listening in on the hearing, USDA has made a live audio feed available for the hearing at: http://tinyurl.com/camilkhearing.