PMMB responds to Pa. Dept. of Ag with hearings May 2 and 16

Public comment must be pre-submitted by Apr. 30 and May 11 to speak at the hearings on May 2 and 16. Separate from the PMMB hearings, the Pa. Dept. of Ag is seeking public comment to improve the market for dairy in the state and invites the public and industry to provide suggestions or comments online to be considered moving forward.

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By Sherry Bunting, @agmoos

HARRISBURG, Pa. — In responding to Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding’s petition for hearings and review, the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board (PMMB) announced April 18 that it will conduct the first of two public hearings on May 2 with an expedited process requiring testimony to be provided in advance by noon on April 30.

The first hearing is set for May 2, 2018 at 9:00 a.m. in Room 309 of the Agriculture Building across from the Farm Show Complex on North Cameron Street, Harrisburg.

A second hearing is set for May 16, 2018 at 9:00 a.m. in the Monongahela Room of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex. The second hearing was announced this week, and like the first hearing, stipulates pre-registration with copy of comments provided in advance by noon on May 11.

PMMB states that the purpose of the first hearing on May 2 is to receive testimony and comments regarding the specific “Recommendations for Statutory Changes” found in the Ag Department’s April 5 petition.

The hearing will occur before the PMMB Sunshine Meeting already scheduled on that day, which sources indicate will address another portion of the PDA petition — asking PMMB to amend regulatory provisions dealing with termination of dealer-producer contracts. Since this portion of the petition involves a board-level action rather than a statutory change, steps to begin the regulatory review process will begin during the Sunshine Meeting that follows the public hearing on May 2.

(Author’s note: As you read on, please keep in mind that most Pennsylvania dairy farmers I speak with want transparency. They are not seeking a more complex system. They are seeking truth and a level playing field from which to compete. Pennsylvania is unique in having this lawyered-up state-level milk pricing system cohabitating with two Federal Order milk pricing systems. The state system (PMMB) sets a minimum retail milk price and minimum wholesale milk price for 6 regions of Pennsylvania, and the farm premium built into it only passes back to the farm IF the milk is audited to have met three specific criteria: produced, processed and sold in PA. However, the money is collected from all Pennsylvania consumers on ALL milk sold in Pennsylvania no matter where it came from or what pathway of logistics it utilized in getting to a PA store shelf. In turn, the very high per-gallon minimum price creates an uneven playing field for PA-produced milk as the state has become a magnet for increasing numbers of out-of-state dealer licenses as well as out-of-state milk usage, as well as out-of-state distribution warehouses and companies that specialize in logistics while the nation is overcome by supermarket loss-leading and price wars for customer acquisition).

In Wednesday’s hearing (May 2), PMMB will receive testimony on the following statutory items specifically mentioned in the Ag Department’s petition, many of which were suggested by PMMB staff as far back as 2009, but were never moved on, nor implemented!

LICENSING OF RETAILERS

In its petition, the Pa. Dept. of Ag mentions a recommendation by PMMB staff back in 2009 that was never implemented. It would have enabled the Board to require retailer reporting of volumes of fluid milk purchased and volumes sold in Pennsylvania “to track the amount of fluid milk sold at retail, the amount of consumer dollars being generated by the various components that make up the minimum retail price, and to identify the wholesalers and other sources of all fluid milk sold in Pennsylvania.”

The PDA petition notes that this is “a noted absence of data which prevented Drs. Novakovic, Stephenson and Nicholson’s study from being more conclusive on PMMB pricing’s impact on retail prices and Pennsylvania processing volumes. Such data is necessary for the continuation of credible, industry-supported and publicly-supported, PMMB pricing.”

TITLE TO MILK

Regarding Title to Milk, the PDA petition cites another amendment suggested by the PMMB staff in 2009, but never implemented, “to declare by statute, for the purposes of producer pricing only, that title to milk transfers to a milk dealer at the farm pick-up.”

In its petition, PDA notes that, “This (amendment) enables the Board to account for milk transported for out-of-state processing and to track that milk if it comes back in-state via wholesale or, coupled with the above, by a retailer.”

RETURN ABOVE COST OF PRODUCTION

The PDA petition also cites portions of the statute that result in “a return above the cost of production must always be guaranteed in the wholesale and retail price but not in the producer price.”

The petition recognizes that while the producer price under Section 801 must be, according to statute, “cost of production and a reasonable profit to the producer,” there is this exception stating that ‘the market for Pennsylvania-produced milk is threatened,’ which has “so permanently swallowed the rule that increasingly producers question the legitimacy of the entire PMMB pricing system,” PDA states in its petition.

“This is a major problem that must be addressed with transparency and clarity. This petition specifically requests that the PMMB staff be charged with investigating and recommending options to the Board for a statutory revision that has industry acceptance and equitably allocates the impact of market conditions across producers, milk dealers and retailers. If that is not deemed advisable, consideration of a statutory amendment nevertheless remains necessary to replace the existing language,” the petition states.

(Author’s Note: In other words, in times when the minimum price must be lowered to protect the market, the “pain” should be allocated to the other sectors and not taken on solely at the farm level. For example, when supermarkets loss-lead and get into price wars to acquire customers, should they not calculate that cost to their business rather than pass it back through the chain to the farm? It’s the retailer’s decision to use the price on a staple to acquire customers. It’s the processor’s decision to negotiate for large contracts. In the same sense, farmers cooperatives have admitted (in at least one civil proceeding) to doing the same by “sharing” profits gained by collective distribution efficiencies in the form of rebates to processors that are then passed on to retailers. Meanwhile, farmers are told the efficiencies of these collective distribution efforts are meant to reduce the cost of the hauling that is passed on to the farmer and that cost been steadily rising.)

RETURN OF BENEFIT TO PRODUCERS

Finally, the May 2 hearing will receive testimony on the point in paragraph 18 of the Pa. Ag Department’s petition concerning the return to producers of the benefit of minimum wholesale pricing.

The PDA petition explains it this way: “Much has been said over the years about the language of Section 805 of the Milk Marketing Law and whether the price increase built into the minimum wholesale price for payment of the over-order premium is being ‘given to producers’ as required.

“The allowed exception (‘ … necessary in order lawfully to maintain proper milk markets and outlets for producers and consumers’) has, again, permanently swallowed the rule. As with Section 801 producer pricing, consideration should be given to amending Section 805 to clarify the intended result. This is another area where positive perception of PMMB pricing appears to have been eroded by a perceived lack of clarity and transparency, the petition explains.

The PMMB hearing announcement states that intent to present testimony, and a written copy must be provided by noon on April 30, 2018 either electronically at  deberly@pa.gov or by filing at the PMMB office, Rm 110, Agriculture Building, 2301 North Cameron Street, Harrisburg, PA 17110.

For the May 16 hearing, the purpose is to solicit and consider suggestions for statutory changes to the Milk Marketing Law as requested by the PDA in its petition.

Those wanting to give testimony or comments on May 16 must provide notification and a written copy in advance to the PMMB by noon on May 11 either electronically at ra-pmmb@pa.gov or by filing at the PMMB office, Rm 110, Ag Building, 2301 North Cameron St., Harrisburg, PA 17110.

Announcements for the May 2 and May 16 public hearings indicate that both will be listening sessions with no examination or cross examination by interested parties.

A copy of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Petition can be found at the Board’s website and drafts of the proposed amendments may be obtained on the Board’s website at http://www.mmb.pa.gov/Legal/Documents/Petition%20for%20Hearing%20MMB.pdf.

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