Milk co-op wants new trucking regulations in Md.
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Some Maryland farmers could save money if the state legalizes three-day milk pickups, a regional cooperative pushing for the change said last week.
The Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association has been lobbying the state Department of Health to approve new regulations that would improve the efficiency of milk trucking in the state, said Bob Cooksey, the cooperative’s member services manager.
Supporters of the change say three-day pickups, which allow a farmer to store milk for 72 hours before it’s trucked away rather than just 48, have become increasingly necessary as the dairy industry struggles with a shortage of truckers, a declining number of dairies and tighter profit margins.
“Because we’ve lost so many farms in the state of Maryland, the distance between farms, and to markets, is driving up costs,” Cooksey said. Three-day pickups reduce “the charges to farmers, and it increases the efficiency of the milk hauler.”
The state gives the public time to comment on any regulatory change — a formality, Cooksey said, as the state has already privately expressed support for three-day pickups. A health department spokesman stopped short last week of saying the regulatory change was imminent. Regardless, Cooksey said he expects an announcement this summer.
The change would largely help larger milk producers who either already have or can afford to expand their storage tanks to hold more milk, he said. Producers in surrounding states, including Pennsylvania, already permit three-day pickups.
“We’re doing it some here in Pennsylvania,” said Marlin Nolt, owner of a trucking company in Peach Bottom, Pa., that works with more than 40 Maryland farmers. “It hasn’t taken off a ton yet. A lot of people are putting in bigger tanks to be able to do that when the time comes.”
Each time milk is picked up from a farm, producers can be charged $30 to $50 — fees that would drop substantially if fewer pickups were necessary, Cooksey said.
But farmers will not be required to switch to a three-day schedule, he said. Smaller farms, such as Misty Meadow Farm Creamery in Smithsburg, Md., probably can’t easily afford the tank upgrade.
“I think we’re staying at every other day because of our production and the size of our tanks,” said Andrew Herbst, manager of the farm’s creamery. “Unless they are going to throw money at farmers.”
The Farm Service Agency offers low-interest loans to farmers looking to upgrade commodity storage.
Three-day pickups won’t negatively affect milk quality, Cooksey said.
“We wouldn’t have even considered this change if it would have impacted quality,” he said.
Three-day pickups should ease the burden on regional truckers, who complained about a nationwide shortage of drivers at the cooperative’s yearly meeting in Hershey, Pa., last month.
The trucking industry is short about 78,000 drivers. There are about 3.5 million drivers nationwide.