Friday, June 16, 2000
Senate votes to withdraw from dairy compact
In a move which opponents say will hasten the demise of small family-run farms, the Massachusetts Senate voted to begin withdrawing from the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact. The compact, in place for three years, was intended to stabilize milk prices and to guarantee that dairy farmers earn at least a set price for every gallon of milk they produce.
Those in favor of the withdrawal claim that the compact sets consumer milk prices too high and requires the state to pay into the multi-state compact far in excess of what Massachusetts farmers receive. Those against withdrawal argue that large out-of-state milk processors will be the primary beneficiaries of a lack of price controls and that more farmers will succumb to economic pressure to sell their land for development.
"Agriculture as a whole is under a lot of stress," said local dairy farmer Mark Duffy, a strong supporter of the compact. "Dairy farming in particular is a long-term business. Farmers need stability."
The Senate voted to withdraw from the compact as part of budget deliberations in late May. A section of the FY01 Senate budget would give notice of withdrawal from the compact and would set up a $3 million trust fund to help farmers who had been receiving payments from the compact. Since there was no corresponding provision in the House budget, the fate of the compact must be determined by conference committee, currently holding negotiations to reconcile the different versions of the budget.
Senator Susan Fargo and Representative Carol Cleven both support the dairy compact, as does Governor Paul Cellucci. In speaking on the Senate floor against the argument that more dairy farms have been lost in the past three years than in the two years before the compact, Fargo said, "We are in a boom economy. Farms have declined due to enormous development pressure. Why not sell your acres, retire and be rich? I might consider doing that and I'm an open space advocate."
Duffy, who lobbied on the State House steps in support of the compact, also spoke against the argument that more money goes out of state than is received by in-state farmers. The uneven distribution is caused because Massachusetts consumes more milk than it produces. Duffy explained that Massachusetts originally attempted to have a price support program just for in-state dairy farmers but that this was ruled unconstitutional because milk was imported from out of state. The federal government then sanctioned the regional dairy compact now in existence. "We must take a regional approach," said Duffy. "We need to share so that there will be agriculture in New England when we get done."
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito