Saturday, April 11, 2009

Good Friday

Farm Power turned two yesterday, on Good Friday. Late the previous evening, the Washington State House of Representatives gave us an early birthday present, passing SB5797 by a vote of 97-0. We've been working on this bill for almost three months, making regular trips down to Olympia to visit our elected representatives and testify in front of committees. The "Sundial" on the picture above was a common meeting spot, located right between the two main legislative office buildings.

SB5797 allows anaerobic manure digesters to add a portion of food processing wastes (which feed more efficient bacteria methane production) without putting the regulatory "solid waste" designation on the manure supplied by dairy farmers. This solves one of our biggest challenges; co-digesting manure with food-processing waste makes digesters efficient enough to operate without subsidies, but no dairy farmers would accept this if it turned them into solid waste handlers. Passing this legislation, with the cooperation of the Departments of Ecology and Agriculture, lays out the rules for optimized energy production from digesters.

Many of our friends and neighbors were concerned after the Skagit Valley Herald broke the story on this issue, but the paper has been running regular updates on the legislative progress. We look forward to the bill making its final trip--to the governor's desk--and then becoming part of the Revised Code of Washington. We'd like to thank SB5797's prime sponsor, Senator Mary Margaret Haugen, secondary sponsors Senators Ranker, Brandland, and Hatfield, and the rest of the manure digester community for getting this legislation to the finish line.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

It's Not A Joke--Just Economics

Yesterday, at my local market, I purchased a gallon of generic 2% milk for $1.89 and a two-pound block of Tillamook cheddar for $4.99. Again, I wasn't finding falling prices at a WalMart Supercenter or buying off a pallet at Costco--just stopping at the little downtown Mount Vernon Red Apple. I haven't seen prices like this in years; farmers are getting about one dollar a gallon for their milk right now, so it had to filter through to the consumers eventually. Those farmers are also losing at least $0.25 for every gallon they produce. It takes almost two and a half gallons of milk to make a block of cheese, so the farmer-owners of the Tillamook Creamery have got to be hurting too (especially as their directors pursue growth in the desert and through acquisitions).

One year ago, consumers from the rest of the booming Pacific Rim were eagerly buying a significant portion of the Northwest's milk products. Now, international demand has collapsed while Americans cut back on their cheese and ice cream. It's a perfect storm for dairy farmers, who can only hope for economic recovery and milk supply cuts from cooperative-funded cow-reduction programs. The stimulus package doesn't contain a dairy section, so we need people to respond as the economics textbooks predict--buy some more of that cheap cheese and enjoy it!