Carroll County dairy farmers strongly supported the concept of a Maryland milk commission yesterday at an informational meeting sponsored by the Maryland Farm Bureau and the Maryland Dairy Task Force.
Twenty-nine of 30 farmers at the morning meeting said they wanted a commission to regulate the amount producers are paid for raw milk and wholesale milk prices.
The commission, consisting of three consumers, two producers and one processor, would require wholesale distributors to sell milk at or above their processing costs. The commission, proposed by the task force in December, would be paid for through milk distributor and processor license fees.
Licensees would pay $25 per year for a license and 3 to 5 cents per 100 pounds of milk processed. A gallon of milk equals 8.6 pounds.
"The federal order price system is not working," said Robert Vaughn of the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative. "We have to go with another system and protect farmers from outside forces."
Maryland dairy farmers are suffering from competition with Pennsylvania and Virginia milk processors who do not have to pay dairy cooperative fees to sell their products here, task force members said.
Local processors are forced to either sell their products below cost, deal with producers who are not dairy cooperative members or lower the premiums they pay cooperative producers to compete.
"We are trying to protect what you have," Mr. Vaughn said, adding that processors who used to pay a $1.30 per-hundred-pound premium to local farmers are now only willing to pay 80 cents per 100 pounds, a figure that is dropping.
After paying cooperative dues, the dairy farmer receives about 22 cents per 100 pounds, which can add up to about $4,200 per year in revenue for a typical 100-cow operation that could be lost if premiums are dropped.
Consumers and processors would benefit from a milk commission that would help ensure a locally produced, steady supply of milk, said Myron Wilhide, a Detour farmer who is chairman of Maryland Farm Bureau's dairy committee.
"During snowstorms, droughts and floods, it's difficult to bring in a supply of milk from far away," he said, adding that a local supply saves transportation costs. "A processor doesn't want his supply to come
from someone way out yonder. He wants to buy it locally."
In addition, commissions do not significantly raise costs to the consumer, said Boyd Cook of Dairymen Inc., a Sykesville milk cooperative.
Maryland prices for a gallon of whole milk ranged from $2.29 to $2.69, with most of the chain stores charging from $2.39 to $2.69, he said, citing a recent Dairymen survey. The lowest price in Pennsylvania was $2.41 for a gallon of whole milk.
"The average cost with no regulation is only 6 to 7 cents lower than in Pennsylvania, where it is regulated straight through," Mr. Cook said.
Task force members said votes at two similar meetings on Monday were also overwhelmingly positive. Dairy farmers on the Eastern Shore voted 18-1 in favor of the commission; farmers at a Harford County meeting supported the measure with a 16-2 vote.
The presentation was repeated yesterday afternoon at the Frederick County Extension Office.