BATAVIA, NY -- About 200 people attended a formal Senate hearing this afternoon at Genesee Community College focused on a dairy industry in crisis and possible solutions.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand heard testimony from producers and processors, economists and dairy industry experts. At the end of the two-hour hearing, which started about a half hour late, she said she was taking some good ideas back to Washington to use in developing long-term fixes.
The dairy industry is hard hit by: a pricing structure that's based on only 2 percent of the industry's products: higher fuel and feed costs; trade inequities; the expense of meeting increased regulations and standards not required by international competitors; and by a swiftly fluctuating market -- stemming from changing demands, the impact of product perishibility and supply -- plus many other factors.
It's a tough business and it requires a certain youthfulness to do the heavy physical labor, 365-days-a-year, with a liklihood of losing money at the end of the year instead of making a profit.
One of the surest ways of increasing the health of the dairy industry, is to increase consumer demand for its products. Several spoke in favor of the federal government doing more to help out, such as buying more milk for school breakfast programs, stocking up food banks with cheese or buying powdered milk for women and infant nutrition programs. In other words, use more Department of Agriculture money going toward food purchases anyway to beef up dairy consumption.
To compete with a ever-increasing variety of thirst-quenching beverages, the dairy industry needs to develop new products and boost the flavor, "mouth feel," and nutrition of milk without adding fat or calories.
They also called for leveling the field when it comes to trade. Why does an American dairy farmer have to pay a 15-cent per-hundred-weight fee for marketing and promotion, when the foreign importer does not yet still enjoys the benefits?
One good way to boost oversees consumption is to sell more solid milk product, which is in great demand worldwide. But more production plants are needed. Yet a capital expansion program for Batavia has been on hold since 2005 pending USDA approvals.
Rep. Eric Massa said he'll enlist his colleagues to pressure the USDA to speed things up if Kim Pickard-Dudley drafts him a letter on why the capital expansion program is critical for Western New York. She spoke as a representative of the farmer-owned Upstate Niagara Co-op.
Robert Church advocated "market-driven solutions" and federalizing uniform industry standards, so states like California, do not have unfair advantage over Western New York's dairy industry. He's herd manager for Patterson Farms, a 980-cow operation west of Auburn.
"You said one-size-fits-all," Massa told Church. "My job is to protect New York. That's what I'm here to do."
The problems faced by New Mexico, California or Arizona dairies, compared to here, are vastly different because their circumstances are different, Massa said, about as different in fact as Mars is from Pluto.
"California cows are happy cows," so goes the marketing slogan, but Massa said here it's more like "New York cows are really angry cows."