Marsh said the state's three dairy cooperatives, which represent 80 percent of California milk production, are now drafting language on such a proposed federal order. But they are waiting for passage of a new federal farm bill because the current House version contains language that would allow California producers to petition USDA and, more importantly, allow them to keep their quota system, which is valued at $1 billion.
Producers attempted through several hearings before CDFA this year to change how dry whey is valued in the state's milk pricing formula, which they contend underpays them for Class 4b milk compared to what farmers in other states earn under the federal milk marketing order. Each time, the state implemented price increases that fell short of what producers requested.
Dairy farmers also turned to the state Legislature, sponsoring a couple of bills meant to address issues with Class 4b milk, which is used to manufacture cheese. The first one, AB 31, got stalled in the Assembly. The other, AB 1038, would formalize a dairy task force previously established by CDFA to propose changes to the state milk pooling and pricing system. That bill was approved by the Senate in September and moved to the inactive file in the Assembly.
In part because those bills haven't progressed, Marsh said, he's "seeing a lot of interest being paid in the producer community to this idea of a federal milk marketing order." But he said his organization has not given up on trying to fix the milk pricing issue through state legislation, noting that the process to join the federal order could take two to three years.
Barcellos, who is on the CDFA dairy task force, said he is also not ready to throw in the towel with regard to the task force, even though "there's not a lot of faith (among producers) in what might come out of there."
The task force is scheduled to have its next meeting in January to discuss options.
CDFA Secretary Karen Ross previously said a group of technical experts has been working on potential alternative pricing scenarios and that the department has contracted University of California, Davis, economist Daniel Sumner to analyze those scenarios. She also indicated that CDFA staff would develop comprehensive pricing proposals by Dec. 15. CDFA spokesman Steve Lyle said those proposals are currently "under internal review" and that the department has yet to determine whether to share the information with the task force or make it public.