Unanimity Elusive on Dairy Quotas

Published on: 18:45PM 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?