“Fair pay for our milk!”

That was the rallying cry for hundreds of dairy farmers and their supporters who gathered at the state capital earlier this month to urge changes in the California milk-pricing system, according to the Visalia Times-Delta and Tulare Advance-Register in a report available here.

In recent years, dairies in California – and across the country – have dealt with financial hardships due to many factors, including high feed costs, increased labor costs, and moderate milk prices. The situation is so bleak that one cooperative launched a crisis hotline for dairy farmers and their families. Read more here.

“The dairymen are running out of money. A lot of them went broke. A lot more of them are going broke,” said Joe Simoes, owner of dairies in Tulare and Tipton.

It was this desperation that led dairy farmers to rally against California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Secretary Karen Ross, who sets the state’s milk pricing every month using the California Milk Order. Dairy farmers argue that Ross has been reducing how much dairies receive for their class 4b milk, which is used to manufacture cheese and whey, paying the state’s dairy producers less than dairies in surrounding states.   

In May, the CDFA held a hearing to determine if the value of whey should be raised in the state’s Class 4b pricing formula. Read more here.

Though Ross did not directly respond to the protest, she issued a statement just hours after her office was protested.

“When considering changes to the formulas used to calculate the minimum price, the Department is obligated to balance the economic impacts on producers, processors and consumers to ensure there is sufficient milk to meet demand, and that demand remains consistent. Because of the competing interests of these groups, the Department is often required to make difficult decisions,” Ross wrote in her blog post available on the CDFA’s website.

Ross also announced that the CDFA has created the Dairy Future Task Force, which includes 32 of the state’s dairy farmers, cooperatives and processors, to “make recommendations for changes to the pricing structure.” Read more about the task force.

After the success of the first rally, a second event has been planned for mid-October. Instead of targeting Ross, the group plans to focus on her boss, Governor Jerry Brown. Organizers hope that the noise and publicity generated by the ongoing protest will attract Brown’s attention and put added pressure on Ross.

Read more from the Visalia Times-Delta and Tulare Advance-Register here.