Editor's note: The following article was written by Ching Lee, assistant editor of Ag Alert. Ag Alert is the California Farm Bureau Federation's weekly newsletter.
click image to zoomCheryl Graham A bill that would have established a formula for determining the whey value in the California milk pricing system to bring prices closer to those paid under the federal milk marketing order has been amended, to allow California dairy farmers and processors to work on an agreement.
The Assembly Agriculture Committee voted unanimously last week to keep Assembly Bill 31 moving, so the parties could continue to work on agreed-upon language before the end of the month, the deadline for moving a bill out of its house of origin.
Nearly 100 supporters of the bill attended the hearing to urge passage of AB 31 in its original form, but committee members expressed concern about moving the bill forward without a resolution from producers and processors.
"This has been an incredibly complicated issue for everybody," said Committee Chair Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, noting the committee had been working with stakeholders on the bill up until the last minute, with each side offering its own version. But no agreement could be reached prior to the hearing.
"That's why we're coming back to you to say, 'Don't ask us to write the policy,'" Eggman said, adding that she did not see AB 31 as it was written to be the "final version" and that she will "stand in the way of anything trying to leave the house that is not complete."
Eggman said she and Committee Vice Chair Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, also sent a letter to California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, asking her to hold a hearing to find a short-term solution in the meantime. Ross has scheduled the hearing for May 20 to consider temporary changes to the state milk pricing formula for all classes of milk.
AB 31, sponsored by Western United Dairymen and introduced in December by Assembly Member Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, is meant to address what producers say is a price disparity in the state pricing formula for Class 4b milk—used to manufacture cheese—and what's being paid to producers in other states under the federal milk marketing order. The bill would have directed CDFA to set a value for dry whey in the 4b price no less than 80 percent of the whey value used in the federal order.
California cheesemakers say the bill would force many of them out of business or to other states.