Road Warrior Article #200: View From the Left Coast: The Environmentalists

This past week I was on the ‘left coast’ and spent time in the Central Valley, and, yes, Hollywood, California. There are some interesting situations occurring there that may ripple throughout America.

My first stop was in the Central Valley, and, boy, is this a ‘red’ area, contrary to popular belief that California is a ‘blue state.’ I spoke to the producers of Hilmar Cheese in Turlock. This company was started by entrepreneurs that desired to produce a product that met emerging consumer trends, that being cheese consumption. What is so interesting is that many of their producers tend to have smaller dairies, under 450 cows, which is quite contrary to the image of the 2000-cow plus dairies of California. Hilmar’s milk quality award generally was earned by the small family dairy farms that proudly accepted their awards as families.

Hilmar Cheese’s processing plant is under attack by environmentalist groups such as the Sierra Club. A hard-line article in the Sacramento Bee was very critical of their waste practices. This occurred despite the organization’s attempt to be proactive to correct errors. The perspective is that the environmentalists are pointing criticism toward the processors, which impacts the profitability of many dairy producers.

Hilmar has a history of being proactive. For example, in 2002 Hilmar committed $3 million to pay $10,000 bonuses to producers who took part in the dairy quality assurance program to learn how to be better environmental stewards. While they admitted that they most likely did violate state and local water regulations, they were proactive and ahead of the curve in many ways.

The pressure is spilling over to Governor Schwartzenegger’s office, as the Sierra Club wants him to fire his Undersecretary of Food and Agriculture who is a dairyman. The Governor believes in a balance of protecting the environment and jobs. This will be an interesting case for agriculture and rural America to watch because it could ripple throughout the country.

P.S.: Hollywood is different. I spoke to a cooperative group, and got to see Bob Barker on the street. He looked like he had done too many “Price Is Rights!”

My e-mail address is:sullylab@vt.edu

Editors' note: Dave Kohl, The Corn and Soybean Digest Trends Editor, is an ag economist specializing in business management and ag finance. He recently retired from Virginia Tech, but continues to conduct applied research and travel extensively in the U.S. and Canada, teaching ag and banking seminars and speaking to producer and agribusiness groups.

To see Dave Kohl's previous road warrior adventures type Dave Kohl in the Search blank at the top of the page.

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