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Tuesday March 28, 2006 Edition
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Sen. Giard Wants End To System Of Farmers Paying Transport Both Ways

Tuesday March 28, 2006

By Ed Barna

    They say you have to be an optimist to be a farmer, and even though Sen. Harold Giard is no longer an active dairyman, he’s optimistic about the industry’s future.

Though he realizes conventional dairy farmers face a tough year due to anticipated drops in milk prices, he sees organic dairy farmers getting twice as much per hundredweight of milk. Not only that, he said in a recent interview, studies have shown the existing farms can’t keep up with the growing milk market.

Value-added products get a better return, and on-farm processing does exactly that, Giard said. He can remember when there were 38 such operations, and now he is told there are 138.

There are things that scare him, the Texas cheese plant  soon to come on line, capable of taking in seven tractor-trailer loads of milk per hour--350,000 pounds per hour--and capable of flooding the cheese market so that prices there will go down.

In general, though, he said that if dairying can change and adapt, it could be “a very exciting time.”

Meanwhile, Giard said, he knows one way to help dairy farmers deal with coming prices that will be “dramatically below cost.” They are the only ones he knows of who have to pay the shipping charge on their raw materials AND their finished product--and a bill he has introduced in the Legislature would change that.

It would have state agriculture officials and the Joint Fiscal Office look into the situation and determine a fair rate for stopping (farmers pay “stop charges” as well as over-the-road costs), taking on milk, and hauling it to a processor--who would pay that charge, Giard said. When for instance Agri-Mark is getting $10-14,000 per ton for cheese, and they are paying $2,600 for a batch of milk, there is room in between for those who are making the most money to absorb those expenses, he said.

This would also help with inequities in the existing system, Giard said. He knows of one organic operation that pays $75 a month for hauling--$900 a year. A 90-cow conventional farm he knows spent $21,600 last  year in stopping and shipping charges. Big dairies pay lower rates, so “the smaller farms are subsidizing the bigger farms.”

Giard can’t assure the bill’s passage, but he’s been working farmer’s hours on that and other things. Senators normally sit on two committees, but he is part of the Senate Agriculture, Institutions and Government Operations Committees.

He makes no secret of his contact information: reach him at home (758-2577) or by cell phone (349-8722) or email him at [email protected].

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