California dairy farmers ask feds to set milk prices

September 14, 2012 12:58:25 AM PDT
California dairy farmers are on the brink of bankruptcy, saying the state sets the price of milk too low for them to survive. Not only that, but they say they're also being squeezed by the cost of feeding their cattle. The dairy farmers want the state to step in to save a vital agricultural product that brings in billions of dollars a year.

California's dairy farmers are making some noise about the price the state of California set this summer for milk. They're getting just over $16 per 100 pounds, after asking Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross for a 50 cent increase.

"What was her response? We got six cents, which equals $500 dollars a month for a 1000 cow dairy," Chino dairy farmer Syp Vander Dussen said.

With the drought in parts of the U.S. spiking up the price of corn, cattle feed is very expensive. More than 300 cattle farms in California have already shut down, with more on the verge of closing because the cost to manufacture milk now exceeds what they can sell it for.

"We want to survive, I have four kids," Johnny Tachera said. Nearly all of California dairies are family-owned. Tachera, a Fresno County resident, is a third generation dairy farmer. He says he's at his ropes end, "We have no money left over. We can't do nothing. And the banks won't work with us."

Tachera was part of a group that went to Washington D.C. this week to ask that California be included in a group of states where the federal government sets the price of milk, which is currently at $18 per one hundred weight.

"$18 a hundred weight only gets us to break even what our cost of production is," Tachera said. When asked what they really need, he answered, "It'll be nice to get $20."

Since federal approval could take months, the farmers marched to Secretary Ross's office because she has the authority to raise milk prices now. But the protestors were refused at the door.

The agency did say it's aware of the farmers' challenge, but looks at a variety of factors when setting milk prices taking into account the impact on consumers, producers, and processors.

Since long-term problems must be fixed, in a statement Secretary Ross said "... short-term price adjustments may not be an effective approach."

For now, some farmers are selling cows to slaughterhouses to buy feed for the rest of the herd. Others are growing grapes, almonds, or other crops to pay for feed.