Monday, February 20, 2006

Government quashes independent dairy farmers

I'm posting this because as a former independent dairy farmer, this is an issue that I've some passion for and I think it matters to most Americans more than they probably realize. It's about how the government - at the urging of bigtime agricultural co-ops - is putting the squeeze on independent dairy producers, forcing them to adhere to needless and overly burdensome regulations that have nothing to do with the quality of the milk they produce. Here's the story from the Chicago Tribune...
He sells milk for half the price you pay. The feds want to stop him. Why?

By Andrew Martin

Tribune national correspondent

Published February 19, 2006

YUMA, Ariz. -- Hein Hettinga is a dairy farmer but he doesn't spend his days milking cows.

Rather, Hettinga keeps a cell phone pressed to his ear to keep tabs on his empire of 15 dairy farms stretching from California to west Texas, including five massive farms in the desert east of Yuma.

But what distinguishes Hettinga from other large-scale dairy farmers is that he also bottles the milk from his Arizona farms and trucks it to stores in Arizona and Southern California. At one of them, Sam's Club in Yuma, two gallons of Hettinga's whole milk sell for $3.99.

That's the same price as a single gallon of whole milk in Chicago, which is second only to New Orleans in the cost of milk.

By controlling all stages of production, Hettinga says he can produce milk so efficiently that he and his customers can make a hefty profit at dirt-cheap prices. Such vertical integration, as it is known, is increasingly popular in agriculture as farmers and processors try to find ways to eliminate costs and increase revenues.

In the highly politicized world of dairy, efficiency could carry a price. Major dairy cooperatives and milk processors successfully persuaded federal regulators to write new rules that would prohibit the business practices that Hettinga has so successfully put in place.

Under the proposed regulations, Hettinga could continue to process his own milk only if he agrees to participate in a federally regulated pool of milk revenues, which would essentially require him to pay his competitors to stay in business. A bill that would have a similar effect is working its way through Congress.

Hettinga, an outspoken 64-year-old who emigrated from Holland to California at age 7, said the pending regulations were an effort by dairy heavyweights such as Dean Foods and the Dairy Farmers of America, the nation's largest dairy cooperative, to monopolize the milk business.

"Basically, I'm a pebble in the shoe of DFA and Dean Foods," he said. "The only reason I'm a success is they are a milk monopoly and they have raised the price too high. The consumer is getting ripped off."

Both Dean and the Dairy Farmers of America, or DFA, declined to comment for this article...

You know, if most of the small-time farmers in this country ever decided to hold a general strike, they would bring not just this nation, but a lot of the rest of the rest of the world to its knees. Just something to think about. Farmers are some of the most looked-down upon people in a society, but they are also the only ones that are really feeding that society either. It would be in our best interests to not throw up obstacles against them, ya know.

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