HANFORD — Twenty California legislators have joined with Western United Dairymen in calling for emergency price relief for floundering dairy operations.
The 20 lawmakers sent a letter last week supporting Western United Dairymen’s request for a six-month increase of 50 cents in baseline milk prices to cope with what many are calling a crisis.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture had until today to respond to the request.
The reason for the petition? Midwest drought and ethanol demand. Both have driven corn prices sky high, putting the bite on California dairies that depend on it as a key ingredient in cow feed.
“I’ve been in business 57 years, and I can’t pay the bills on the milk check I’m getting,” said Mary Cameron, owner of Atsma-Cameron Dairy in Hanford. “It’s gotten to where it’s a crisis. We have to do something.”
Many are comparing it to the big downturn of 2009, when a global financial collapse severely depressed milk prices. This time, however, it’s not so much a milk price problem as it is a feed cost problem.
“This may well turn out to be worse than 2009,” said Mike Marsh, Western United Dairymen CEO. “It’s very, very dire.”
Feed companies are requiring cash-on-delivery and in some cases are asking for a second deed of trust to be signed over, Marsh said. Many banks have stopped financing dairies, he said.
Steve Nash, a dairy operator near Selma, said he’s struggling.
“This [Midwest] drought has increased our prices from 30 to 40 percent,” Nash said. “We just don’t have the money to pay for these feed costs.”
Nash predicted many more dairies would go out of business than did in 2009.
“There definitely needs to be immediate action taken,” said Michele Costa, Kings County Farm Bureau executive director.
“I notice at least one [dairy] drop from our membership every month.”
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