By Erin O'Connor
SOUTHWICK - For the last two years Southwick farmers have been packing up their dairy operations and giving up on the trade. Some are now taking fight against the producers responsible for purchasing their milk product and placing it on grocer's shelves. Farmers are seeking a higher dollar amount for their milk production.
Pioneer Dairy of Southwick closed this past year.
"We have been petitioned by the farmers of Massachusetts to conduct an exam and investigate whether there is an emergency in the area of pricing in milk," Kent Lage the Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture Resources (DAR) said to Reminder Publications.
"The country is not paying for this [milk production] now but in the future years they will have to," Walter Solek, a former dairy farmer of Southwick, said.
Solek said that he closed his dairy farm operation within the last couple years mainly due to financial concerns.
"We were getting behind slow but sure but we had no major problem because we had property and sold land. All in all it is not a profitable business and you are just lucky breaking even," Solek said.
Joseph Radwilowicz Sr Dairy is a dairy farm that is currnently still in operation in Southwick. Solek said the owner also owns a furniture store.
If the DAR finds that such a price cannot be maintained, the Commisioner may declare a state of emergency where he is authorized to issue orders, rules and regulations, including the establishment of minimum wholesale prices, retail prices or both.
Two public hearings took place, one on March 16 in Amherst and one March 20 in Boston to further investigate the situation. Written testimony was also accepted up until March 29.
Acccording to Lage, 173 petioners attended the two public hearings and better than 95% testified that the crisis exists.
Lage said that farmers are complaining that they are receiving the same pay currently that they have been given for the last 25 years.
"Their [farmers] contention is that it is really unfair for them to recieve this," Lage said.
Lage said that legislation that was written on the pricing was written 50 years ago with the original intent of setting a minimum price. He said that the DAR has limited resources and he wishes to work with Governor Deval Patrick and the Massachusetts legislative body on new legislation pertaining to this pricing.
Lage said another issue is that the DAR cannot stop the milk producers from purchasing their milk supply from out of state dairy farms.
"The bottom line is that we need to get more from the milk producers but how this is actually is going to happen is the ultimate job of us," Lage said.
Lage anticipates that members of the DAR will reach a decision on the matter within the next couple weeks. More information can be found at the DAR web site. The full text of the farmers' petition is available at www.mass.gov/agr/dairy/docs/Petition.pdf